A Paris Christmas Story

Christmas Eve of 1831 was a particularly cold day in Paris. It had snowed overnight. Even though the sun was hidden behind grey clouds, the snow made Paris look bright and friendly. Streets and shops were decorated festively, and the streets were bustling with activity. Everyone was busy making preparations for Christmas and the big dinner in the evening.

People everywhere were walking at a quick pace, but unlike any other day, they seemed more relaxed and cheerful than usual.

There was one man though who remained entirely untouched by the special day and the joyful atmosphere around him. His name was Javert, and he was a police inspector. He had a reputation of being stern and implacable, and to live for the law, and the law alone. Even his outside appearance reflected his character. His uniform was tidy and in order from the thoroughly tied back ponytail to his polished boots, he was tall and formidable-looking. He was in his early fifties, his hair and sideburns had turned grey. He might have been a pleasant-looking man, but his face was in a constant frown, his eyes had turned cold, and could pierce right through a suspected criminal or any poor soul that incurred his displeasure. Those who could preferred to keep well clear of him. His colleagues respected him as a capable inspector, but he had no friends among them. They accepted the fact that he lived for his work and had no interest in socialising.

Javert did not think of Christmas as a special day. Since he had no friends or family, he did not have to bother about buying gifts for anybody. Christmas had of course a certain religious implication for him. He went to church because he regarded this as his duty as a good Catholic, but that was it.

Javert had finished his beat and was on his way back to the police station. That day, he felt pleased with himself, having prevented a robbery and arrested two beggars who had pestered people in front of Notre Dame cathedral, where begging was strictly forbidden. Their excuse had infuriated him - they had claimed since it was Christmas, they had a right to be in front of the church. What a cheek! Everybody had their place, there were rules that had to be obeyed, and Christmas changed nothing about that. The law had to be obeyed on that day like on any other.

.

Still deep in thoughts he opened the door of the police station. The next thing he heard was a desperate "Don´t open the door" and a loud bang - and then he suddenly found he had some gold ribbon around his neck and some branches of pine on his head. On the floor, next to a chair that had fallen over sat Duvillard, a young constable, who only had joined the police force half a year ago. His eyes and mouth were opened widely, and he had a stupefied expression on his face.

Javert removed the ribbon and the branches from his head and shoulders slowly and carefully.

"What do you think you are doing there?"

"I just...um...wanted to make the place look a bit more friendly, after all it´s Christmas."

"I presume you have already finished the reports then?"

Underneath his calm controlled voice, irritation began to show.

"No, sir..."

"Then I suggest that you finish your work first before you worry about the police station´s interior design."

Javert gave Duvillard a cold look and handed him the ribbon, thoroughly wrapped up.

Duvillard quickly went back to work. When Javert spoke in this sarcastic tone, it was better not to get into his way. He sighed. Sure, there were worse superiors than Javert, at least he was always fair, but this obsession with his work was extremely tiring.

The rest of the evening both of them sat working on their reports without talking at all.

When their shift ended, Duvillard closed his reports with a sigh of relief at the clock´s chime - his parents and brothers and sisters waiting for him, and he wanted to join them as quickly as possible.

"I have never seen you to coming into work in such a hurry as you are leaving."

Javert's was of course inevitable.

"Please understand - after all it´s Christmas!"

"I wonder why everyone uses Christmas as an excuse for breaking the rules or neglecting ones duties..."

Duvillard remained quiet because he did not want to annoy him. He dashed out of the police station wishing Javert, who was still engrossed in his reports, a very merry Christmas. He hardly looked up from his work and mumbled something incomprehensible in return.

Javert was left alone with his reports and files. In the dim light of just one lamp, he worked on them for another hour until everything was completed to his satisfaction. He was pleased to see that he was still in time for Midnight Mass.

On his way home from Mass, he was unaware of the festive and solemn atmosphere around him. What the priest had said about love, mercy and compassion did not mean anything to him. The only true, reliable thing was the law, right and wrong, good and bad. Before he went to bed, he looked out of the window, and watched the peaceful scene with the snow that was still falling for a moment.

"I shall be glad when Christmas is over and life is back to normal. People go strange at this time of the year." The minute he said it he felt a slight unease. It seemed like a sacrilege to say such a thing.

With a sigh he went to bed. He fell into a deep dreamless sleep almost at once. After some time though, he woke up from the sound of the clock downstairs striking twelve. At first, he paid no attention to it, but then he realised how unusual that was. He had come home well after midnight, so how could the clock possibly strike twelve? He even remembered having looked at the time before he went to bed, and it had been half past one. What a peculiar thing that was! All sleepiness was gone, and he wanted to find out what on earth was going on.

With one hand, he searched for the candle on his bedside table, but he could not find it. The room was pitch black dark, and he could not make out the slightest shape. Feeling very annoyed he sat up and searched for his slippers on the floor, but he did not manage to find them either. All he felt was the cold floor.

Suddenly he noticed that the room was not dark any more. At a short distance there was a fluorescent source of light. Javert stared at it, trying in vain to make out what it was. Slowly the light took a kind of shape. It became clearer and clearer, until he could make out a figure. It had the height of a child, and somehow childlike features, but it looked awe-inspiring and somehow mature.

He had to be dreaming - things like these just didn´t happen! Still he felt how his hair standing to the end and he started to shiver. He was sat upright in his bed, not daring to move a muscle.

After what seemed like ages he got a grip on himself. He could not have some light floating around in his room like that, he had to do something about it!

"Who are you and what do you want?"

He was angry at himself that his voice sounded rather like someone who was scared to death than the one of a fearless police inspector.

The creature smiled at him.

"Don´t be afraid - I am a ghost!"

"I am not afraid. There are no ghosts, therefore you don´t exist. I am just having a nightmare, it´s as simple as that."

"Are you sure?"

"You are just a dream."

Again the ghost smiled.

"It would be a good, simple explanation, wouldn´t it? I am sorry that I have to shatter it."

With no further warning the ghost went up to Javert, who was still frozen to his bed and pinched him in the arm.

"Ouch" he went involuntarily.

"You felt that, didn´t you? Since you are a clever man you certainly know that humans don´t feel pain when they are dreaming. So you must be wide awake."

Javert desperately tried to control a feeling of panic.

"What do you want from me?"

"I want you to come with me. There are a few things you have to see."

Javert wanted to protest, saying that he was wearing his night clothes and therefore was not suitably dressed to go anywhere, especially not at this time of the night. But somehow he did not dare to say anything and just followed the ghost.