Disclaimer: This is fan fiction just for fun. I have no claims.
In her young life Joan Girardi has ridden in the back of a lot of limousines for a lot of reasons, but the reason for today's ride is one of the saddest. Joan is in a line of similar limos that are part of a funeral procession. Next to Joan is her 16 year old cousin Steven, and today is the funeral of his brother and Joan's cousin, Sgt. Simon Newman. From the air-conditioned comfort of the car, Joan silently watches the passing landscape of this Tampa suburban area. It won't be long before they reach St. Wendel's Catholic Cemetery and the next stage of this ordeal filled day. The graveside service will be brief, but then comes a traditional Irish wake back at the (for sale) Newman family home.
Steven breaks the silence. "Cousin Joan, do you think Simon will be remembered?"
"Of course he will, Steven. You'll never forget him."
"Oh, I know the various family members will remember, and maybe a few of Simon's friends will think of him from time to time, but will the world remember? He was only 19 and didn't have a chance to make his mark in the world. Simon didn't even die a hero's death – it was just some stupid accident…"
Joan nods as she feels a stab of guilt. When she last saw her Cousin Simon, it was on her birthday and he was being shipped out to Iraq. A confrontation with the devil convinced Joan that Simon would not return from Iraq alive. God promised to watch over Simon, especially if she maintained her daily prayers for him, but He could not guarantee Simon's safety due to free will choices. Not satisfied with that response, Joan made a deal with Homeland Security's director of covert operations to protect her cousin. Director Dunn kept his word and Simon was immediately sent back to base to become an instructor with even a bump in rank. In return, Joan has been alternating between assignments for God and assignments for the government. But the cause of Joan's guilt? Thinking that Simon was safe, she stopped praying for him.
"Steven, just because Simon didn't die in combat doesn't make him any less of a hero. He was in uniform, doing his duty when…"
"When he slipped and fell while getting off of his tank because the steel was slippery due to rain. That's not how a hero dies. He might as well have slipped in the bathtub at home."
"Patton died in a car wreck, but he was still a hero. Simon volunteered to fight for his country, and he was prepared to take all of the risks involved. To me, that makes him a hero."
Steven nods. "Yeah…but they don't give out medals for accidental deaths. Fifty years from now, who will remember Simon ever existed?"
Joan ponders a moment. "You could keep his memory alive by naming one of your future children after him."
"If I have kids. If I have a son."
"Tell you what, if I ever have a son, I will name him Simon, and he will know who he is named after."
"You'd do that, Cousin Joan?"
"I give you my word." Joan says while thinking: 'It's the least I can do. Did Simon die because I was no longer praying for his safety? I hope not. It was such a shock when we heard about Simon's death Friday night. But as I promised, if I do have a son…'
Joan suppresses a sigh. This isn't the time to think about her problems. With no husband or potential boyfriend on the horizon, the chance to name a son 'Simon' seems slim. Two months ago, after finally realizing Dylan Hunter was her soulmate, that relationship came to an abrupt end when Dylan accused her of cheating on him. Physically, technically, it wasn't true, but in her soul Joan carried the guilt of betrayal because only circumstances prevented the consummation of Joan's intended plan to seduce another man. Dylan returned to California angry and broken hearted, and despite Joan's many attempts to apologize and explain, Dylan has remained incommunicado. It was Joan's plan that as soon as classes were over on Friday, to fly to L.A. and have it out with Dylan face-to-face. Then came the news about Simon…
The procession of cars comes to a halt – the limos first, followed by a long line of vehicles driven by friends and neighbors. A couple of motorcycle cops have kept the procession tightly bunched and on time for the funeral ritual. As it is Memorial Day, numerous groups of veterans are paying tribute to the nation's fallen, but when they spotted the flag draped coffin in the back of the hearse, they all paused to salute.
Car doors open, people brace themselves for the Floridian heat and humidity, and the pall bearers begin the grim task of unloading the coffin. Will Girardi, sweating profusely in a black suit, is one of the pall bearers. Before leaving Arcadia, many of Will's campaign staff argued a mayoral candidate couldn't leave town during such an important holiday, but Will's response was brief… "There's no way I'm letting my wife face a family funeral alone."
From one of the limousines emerges Helen Girardi (holding a grumpy E.T., one year old as of yesterday). Also, there is Helen's sister, Nell (now a 'Brodie' again after the divorce). Joining them is their Aunt, Olive Donnelly. Although Aunt Olive is approaching 80, she is still strong and gives Nell the support she needs to make the short walk to…her son's grave.
From the other limo there emerges Marcus Brodie and his second wife, Leona. Marcus is now 72 and still very fit, but for the first time, here at his grandson's funeral, he looks truly old. Leona remains close to him in case he too needs support. The last member of the family emerges – Robert Newman. He has lost weight since the last time Joan saw him, and his hair is rapidly greying. It has been a hard year for 'Uncle Bob' – his marriage ended, his car dealership is struggling and now…Simon. Bob sways a bit – the heat of the day and the several drinks he's had makes balance a problem. Steven rushes over and gives his father a supportive arm.
It is all Joan can do not to cry. She has never been close to this side of the family, and definitely never liked 'Uncle Bob', the philandering ex-husband of her Aunt Nell. Still, she can't help feeling sorry for Bob. Despite his many faults, he has always loved his sons as much as life itself, and this tragedy has driven him to the edge. Prior to this Bob and his remaining son were estranged, but Joan can tell that won't last in the face of this difficult time. Family…
Of course not everyone could make it. Cousin Florene Donnelly is grounded in San Francisco recovering from an appendectomy. Kevin is stuck in L.A. filming the two part season finale to his TV show, 'Improper'. They were finally able to reach Luke Saturday morning, but he and his young family were driving down from Boston, planning to stop at some to the touristy spots on the way. There was no way they could make it to the funeral on time.
Still, there is an impressive turn out including many of Simon's friends from high school, employees of the Pontiac-Saturn-Hummer dealership, plus neighbors and members of the church where the family sporadically attended. A surprisingly young priest stands at the grave site, patiently waiting for the approaching pall bearers. Once the coffin is in place, and the mourners have settled into orderly rows, with the family up front, the service begins with a prayer. After that, the priest continues by reading a letter from Simon's commanding officer, praising the skill and dedication of Sgt. Newman. While this is going on, Joan witnesses a strange but not unexpected sight…
The ghost of her cousin Simon, in dress uniform, approaches them. This is not the first time Joan has encountered ghosts at a funeral. Often they just want to bid an unseen farewell to loved ones before going on to their final destination. But this is different. Simon seems sad and very reluctant to be here, and that might be because he is not alone. Two other ghosts, also soldiers, march with Simon toward the funeral, and they look angry. E.T. begins to squirm with unease at the approaching ghosts.
"Mom…?" Joan whispers.
"I see them, Joan." Helen whispers back.
The three ghost soldiers come to a halt near the gathered mourners. Simon sighs and beckons Joan…
Helen whispers, "What do they want?"
"I don't know, but I better find out." Joan says as she quietly slips away. Most of the mourners, lost in their own sad thoughts, do not notice. Joan reaches the soldiers and Simon again beckons her to follow.
"Simon, what's this all about?"
"You…can talk to me?"
"Of course. Where are you taking me, and who are these other guys?" Joan asks as she walks along with the trio.
One of the ghosts, a sergeant, snarls: "Make her shut up, Newman. I don't want to hear her voice."
"Joan, I want you to know this wasn't my idea. I wanted nothing to do with this."
"With what? I'm not taking another step until you explain."
The other soldier, a corporal, says: "It doesn't matter. We're far enough away now. We were told to get you away from the others in case some of them were spiritually sensitive and would be disturbed by what happens next."
Joan looks about and realizes she is out of view due to some nearby trees. Suddenly the two angry ghosts reach out and begin pushing Joan down and down…
All goes black.
X X X X X
Feely shaky and disoriented, Joan opens her eyes and sees a familiar face. It is not a friendly or welcoming face, but Joan smiles anyway.
"Hey Big Guy, long time no-see."
Joan's former tutor, a 25 foot tall jet-black warrior angel with glowing eyes, grunts a greeting. He has never been the warm and fuzzy type.
"Time to focus, Joan. You are in great peril."
Joan stands and tries to make sense of her surroundings. She is in a great cavern that in height, width and length seems to go on forever.
The angel remarks, "Your Grand canyon could easily fit within this cavern if it existed in the same dimension."
"Good to know. Is this a dream or vision?"
"No Joan, this is quite real."
"So...this is a courtroom?" Joan asks as she indicates the empty judge's stand and the tables set aside for the defense and prosecution. "Who's on trial?"
"You are, Joan."
Joan sighs. "I figured, considering those two angry soldiers are sitting at the prosecutor's table. And what happened to my cousin Simon?"
"He is not one of those who filed charges against you, Joan. Although, he may be called as a witness later on."
"Yeah, speaking of 'charges'. What exactly am I suppose to have done?"
"The charges will be read at the start of the trial, and I will act as your defense attorney. We are waiting on the prosecutor who likes to make late, dramatic entrances."
"I'm in no hurry... Wow, that's a huge TV screen." Joan says, pointing upward.
"It is larger than any found in a human stadium. It is used to present evidence since it can show the past, present and future. It can also show thoughts, emotions and alternate timelines. Add to that the fact no mortal can lie in this court, justice is guaranteed."
"So that's your strategy, trust the system?"
"Honesty is your only acceptable defense. If that leads to your conviction and punishment, then take solace in the fact you have received a fair trial and a fair result."
"Well...isn't that something. I'm guessing you've never been to law school. Do you mind if I look around?"
"Are you looking for an escape route?"
"Absolutely...oh, I guess I really can't lie here."
"Joan, there is no way to escape. You must face the charges against you."
"Then...I guess I'll look around anyway."
Joan wanders away, looking over the sparsely furnished courtroom. The dominant feature is a door 60 feet tall, made of brass and covered in a rather cheap looking pearl veneer. From behind the door comes a high pitched drone that becomes annoying if you pay attention to it. On either side of the door are the court's baliffs - red demons of the traditional view. They are fifteen feet tall, have forked tail, horns and huge phalluses that are on fire. ('Yeah, like what every guy I've known has claimed.')
The only other thing of interest is the gallery of spectators, seperated from the court area by a waist high railing. There is a wide variety of people in the large crowd, all of them evil in nature, and they are watching Joan's every move with fascination. Some cringe as she walks by, and all glare at her with hostility. To Joan's surprise, she spots a familiar face...
Ryan Hunter smiles, but he lacks the arogant confidence he once had. "Hello Joan, I was hoping I would get a chance to talk to you."
"My body died, but my soul lives on forever - if you can call being in hell living."
"How did you get out?"
"On a temporary pass so I could watch your trial. All of those gathered here are eager to watch the trial of an actual instrument of God."
"So I'm a hot ticket item?"
"Very. You've earned quite a reputation amongst the denizens who exist behind that door."
"That door? You mean...?"
"Joan, this is the gateway to hell. That droning noise you hear is the combined, high pitched screams of pain and terror that is constantly and loudly heard in the devil's kingdom."
"It sounds terrible."
"It is. You spend your days in utter darkness, constantly tortured by demons who have nothing better to do with their time, except when they stop to gossip. They love to talk, and you have become a frequent topic of conversation, especially since you actually defeated a death demon last year. That has permanently put you on the devil's list of those he wants to destroy. That's why he has made such an extraordinary effort to get you here, Joan. It's also why I was granted a rare pass so I could witness your comeuppance."
"At least it got you out of there for awhile."
"Yes, but it's a mixed blessing. In hell you have no hope, no reprieve and to be able to see anything outside of that place only serves to remind you of your endless despair. Even in his 'kindness', the devil twists the knife."
"I've heard God express a similar view. That even when Beelzebub is telling the truth, he always has a lie hidden within it. I don't suppose you know what I am charged with?"
"I do, but I don't dare risk the evil one's wrath by telling you now and spoiling his fun. Take heart Joan, and remember the excellent words of the God I foolishly warred against."
"Ryan...is that repentance?"
"I would gladly, humbly repent before God if I had the chance, but my chances are gone." Ryan says with a quiver in his voice and tears in his eyes.
"Compassion, for your worst enemy? Thank you. I will cherish that in the centuries ahead. It is the last I will ever know."
Ryan begins to softly weep and Joan walks away, disturbed by the fate of her 'worst enemy'. Joan supposes most of those suffering in hell have had a much too late change of heart. It fills her with a saddness that weighs heavily on her soul, and makes her wonder if she shouldn't be doing more to help people find the path of light. Joan rejoins her angelic lawyer just as a stir of excitement and fear ripples through the courtroom. From out of the darkness comes the sound of footsteps echoing everywhere in the vast chamber. Many in the gallery howl in dismay at the approach of their evil master. Joan braces herself for the appearance of the enemy, and moments later he is suddenly there...
As always, the devil imitates God - this time in a version Joan saw only once back at Arcadia High. It is the one that told her to build a boat, a naval officer in the dress uniform of a lieutenant commander, only this time it is the devil. He places a briefcase on the table and politely shakes hands with his 'clients', the two soldiers that Joan does not know, but who have somehow filed an unknown charge against her.
Naval Officer devil walks over to the defense table, ignores the towering angel and smiles at Joan. It is the kind of smile that makes Joan's blood run cold...
"At last Joan, I have you where I want you. I am going to enjoy this."
With more confidence than she feels, Joan retorts: "Bring it on, Bub."
The devil frowns at the disrespectful nickname, but before he can respond, one of the baliffs calls out in a voice that sounds like grit being scraped from stone...
"All rise! Court is now in session, the honorable Judge Joan Agnes Girardi presiding."
To Joan's amazement, a different version of herself climbs up to the judge's chair and looks out over the courtroom. It is definitely her, and Joan can identify the very day this version was plucked from time for this farce of a trial. Joan recognizes the clothes she was wearing the first day she met Cute Boy God on the bus to school.
Judge Joan remarks, "Wow, this is sooo weird. Oh well, I guess we better get started. Joan Girardi, you are here to face the charge of: Playing God..."
To Be Continued.
(This courtroom first appeared in my JoA/Sky High crossover: THE AMERICAN WAY.)