A/N: This is the first draft of a story I created for National Novel Writing Month. I've written 24 complete chapters and will need about 10 more chapters to finish. This is something I started writing purely for fun - I haven't taken this story (or myself as a writer) very seriously. I've begged, borrowed and stolen from other influences and I like to think that what I've written is a mix between Phantom of the Opera, This Is Spinal Tap and Cyrano de Bergerac.
I do not own the characters of Christine, Erik/Phantom, Nadir, Meg or Raoul.
Chapter One – Sunday, February 12, 2011
Stupid stupid stupid, Christine thought, fingers pressed to the keys of her laptop. In four and a half years of university, she had taken nine semesters worth of classes and yet none – none! – of the classes had prepared her for this:
To whom it may concern,
I am writing in application for the Civil Engineering New Graduate position advertised on your website. With two years of experience working at Chapman Construction, I feel that I am prepared for the challenges associated with managing projects in the field of sustainable construction.
I am a recent graduate of the Civil Engineering program at the University of Toronto. While a student, I chose courses that emphasized sustainable design and environmentally-friendly building. During class, I learned…
Cover letters are such feigned pieces of writing, she concluded dismally. The whole job seeking process felt so artificial. Step one: write a cover letter explaining why you're the best possible candidate for a competitive position. Step two: entice the hiring manager into reading your resume, which lists a two-year stint as a receptionist at a construction firm, several undergraduate projects including my thesis and colourful stints as a performer. All of these experiences somehow add up to a desirable candidate. Step three: secure an interview, wear a starchy suit and answer phony questions by telling the hiring manager what they want to hear. And, after these three steps, there was no guarantee of earning the right to work for a living.
It felt daunting. And, with only three job applications out since her graduation ceremony last week, Christine felt like she was already failing. Christine had finished classes a month ago. Now, she was a graduate of one of the country's most prestigious universities, with a double major in Civil Engineering and Music (Vocal Performance). And she was stumped on her cover letter.
For the past five years, Christine had poured all of her energy into her studies and into performing. The double major she'd chosen to placate her father had demanded more time and attention than Christine had first anticipated and she'd needed an extra semester to finish all of the required coursework and projects. Where had all of her momentum gone? Christine had been mentally counting down to graduation for years, anticipating the "reprieve" that job hunting would bring. And then, moments after having the degree placed between her fingers, she felt the drive and enthusiasm drain away. And, like a clock winding down, Christine settled into a period of rest, hoping for a spark of inspiration or the ghost of an opportunity to twist the key and set her off running towards a new goal.
Christine saved her cover letter as a text file and closed the lid on her laptop, feeling the weight of her frustration settle onto her shoulders. As a student, she'd naively imagined that there would be a queue of employers, lining the steps of Convocation Hall, eagerly waiting to hire new graduates. Silly Christine.
The front door opened, causing Christine to jump from her seat at the edge of her bed. The scuffle of thick-heeled boots on the hardwood floor of the front entrance signalled the arrival of her roommate Meg Giry.
"Christine?" Meg called, her tired voice echoing down the hallway.
"Yes, I'm home," Christine answered, moving her computer off her lap and onto the bedside table. "I'll be right out." A glance at the alarm clock beside her bed revealed that it was just past 7:00pm. She'd been "job hunting" all afternoon and had sent out only a single half-hearted application. It was now past suppertime and Christine felt the rumbling stir of hunger and guilt mixing in her belly.
"Have you eaten yet?" she called to Meg. "I was thinking of ordering in from the Thai place down the street. I could use some grilled tofu right about now." If she ordered quickly, the delivery driver could be there in thirty minutes, maybe less. A nagging voice at the back of her mind reminded her that if she didn't find a job soon, she wouldn't have any money for take-out by the end of the month.
Christine padded down the hallway of her and Meg's modest two-bedroom apartment. The two women had met in their first year of university, when they'd lived on the same floor of their student residence. Despite the differences in their backgrounds – Meg was in concurrent education and Christine was a double engineering/music major – they'd become fast friends, bonding over a shared love of the arts. Although studying to be a primary school teacher, Meg held a passion for dance, which she'd inherited from her mother, a former ballerina. Likewise, Christine preferred her vocal performance classes to her engineering labs and volunteered to perform in as many of the university's recitals and concerts as she could.
When Christine entered the living room, Meg was standing just inside the front door and was shifting her weight from foot to foot and clutching a stack of envelopes in her hand. One envelope was open, its contents spread out on the coffee table. Meg's mouth was fixed in a half-smile and her gaze was frozen on the contents of the letter.
"Oh, you picked up the mail. Thanks Meg," Christine said, oblivious to her friend's reaction to the letter.
"I didn't think they'd ever answer," Meg murmured, her eyes staying on the sheets of paper. "I hoped, of course, that we'd hear back from them, but I never thought… and there it is."
"Who?" Christine asked, confused as to the source of her roommate's dramatics.
"You should read it, Christine," Meg said, gesturing to the letter. "It's addressed to you after all."
Christine's curiosity was piqued. She glanced at the opened letter, then looked back at Meg before picking up the sheets. Meg chewed her bottom lip nervously, pulling her lip piercing in and out of her mouth.
Christine snatched the letter from the table, wondering why her friend had opened her mail.
Dear Ms. Christine Daaé,
Thank you for submitting your demo tape to Tabby Cat Records. Our team, including members of The Fifth Cellar, was delighted with your tape and impressed with your performance resume. We have selected you as one of five candidates for a position as lead female vocalist of The Fifth Cellar.
Tabby Cat Records would like to invite you for a formal audition at our studio in London, UK. This audition will take place on March 7, 2011 – please call my assistant to schedule your audition. Details on audition guidelines are enclosed. All transportation expenses will be covered by our parent company, P&S Inc.
As you are likely aware, The Fifth Cellar has been searching for a new vocalist since December. We have received over 5,000 demo tapes from vocalists in four continents. Upon final selection, the successful candidate will begin recording with The Fifth Cellar immediately in anticipation for an album release this summer.
Should you have any questions, feel free to call my private number at any time.
Artist Relations Coordinator
Tabby Cat Records
Beneath the covering letter were sheets of paper with audition instructions and details for claiming travel expenses. A formally written letter, official-looking papers – were these the ingredients of a clever hoax? None of it made sense. Christine had never heard of The Fifth Cellar or of Tabby Cat Records. And she'd certainly never mailed any demo tapes. Wistful, Christine realized that she had yet to pull together a demo tape for auditions. Instead, she'd concentrated on passing the courses necessary for an engineering major. A career in music had been a pipe dream.
"Meg?" asked Christine, looking for an explanation, "is this a joke? Are you trying to jinx my job hunt?"
"No!" Meg said, her eyes wide. "It's not a joke at all. I… I sent in a mixed tape of your vocal recordings. I'd heard back in December that The Fifth Cellar – they're a British metal act – was looking for a new soprano. They axed Carmen Guidicelli in September and they've been using guest vocalists for their shows and tours. Carmen got a pretty shitty deal out of it too: the band fired her in a public letter on their website."
Christine stared at Meg, trying to piece together what had happened. Had Meg gone through her laptop, selecting recorded pieces from class and from recitals, assembled a CD, and mailed it …to a metal band?
"But why?" she asked. How could Meg have possibly thought I could fit into a metal band, Christine wondered. And why would she send in a tape without asking me?
"Because you don't want to be an engineer. Not really, not as much as you want to be a singer!" Meg answered. "And there are so few places where you can be a singer. You put your name in at the city opera house and with the theatre troupes years ago, but no one's called you for an audition. And why would they? You're a fantastic singer – one of the best I've heard – but there are so many talented people clamoring for auditions. Symphonic metal bands need classically trained singers. It's a natural fit, you know."
Christine stared at Meg for a moment, taking in her cropped hair and her heavy boots. Meg, who was studying to be a school teacher, thrived on metal music. She listened to dozens of bands, could rhyme off their past and present line-ups on a whim, and edited their Wikipedia entries. Beneath her business casual attire and motherly love for children, beat a heart that throbbed with the beat of double bass drums.
As her roommate, Christine had tolerated Meg's love for loud music by managing not to be home with her during the day and by keeping a set of earplugs handy in the evenings when she studied. For all Meg's efforts to entice Christine to the genre, metal music sounded like noise to the soprano's ears. And her friend wanted her to join a band and contribute to the cacophony? Absurd.
"A metal band? Really Meg?"
"Not just any metal band. The Fifth Cellar practically defined the symphonic metal genre, Christine. They've managed to fuse modern metal with the sound of a classical symphony without strangling the melody in juxtaposition. They've put out three albums in the last five years; their composer and keyboardist, Erik Desrochers, is a creative juggernaut. Please say you'll audition. If I could sing, I would've jumped at the chance," Meg said. "Please go Christine. I – it's a wonderful opportunity and I'm sorry I sent in a tape without asking, but I had to. I just had to."
"Oh, Meg, I don't know," Christine said, sitting down in an arm chair. She'd been looking forward to enjoying some dinner and maybe streaming a movie tonight. Making plans to fly to England to audition for a metal band certainly hadn't been on the agenda.
Could she go? Despite what Meg had said about classically-trained singers succeeding in the symphonic metal genre, Christine knew that it would be a stretch to adapt her musical style. And she hadn't listened to any of The Fifth Cellar's albums. Meg had said there were three albums – three!? If she was stand a chance of winning the position, Christine had some catching up to do. She suspected that Meg would be an eager coach.
The audition was worth a try, she thought. And a free trip to England couldn't hurt. The audition – and the flight – could be a sort of graduation present to herself. Since receiving her degree, Christine had done nothing but look for jobs and deplore at her employment prospects. Taking a break, while exploring a "career possibility" might not be such a bad idea.
Reviews and feedback are appreciated.