V. BRENNA LUANN
Brenna Luann had grown to become a very beautiful young lady. Maggie was just realizing that as Brenna stood upon the dais behind the podium, preparing to make her speech. She was the third-no, the fourth-member of the Usher-Seville family to do so. And this fact made Maggie the proudest. Each had proven to be just as smart, if not smarter than, as she was. And just as successful.
It was as if her branch of the Usher family had gotten the brains that the rest of the family had sorely lacked…except Uncle Lazarus and Lucretia, that was. They’d been the only other members of her extended family to escape the depraved decadence that seemed to be the curse of the Usher family. Her father had been another. All had married outside the family and had broken the cycle of evil that exemplified the main body of the Usher family. Even she had maintained the trend by marrying Conrad.
Her grandfather had married his own cousin. His father had married his own sister. And his father’s father had married his niece, first; then, upon her death, his own daughter. Before that, the incest and inbreeding had been even more prevalent. The thought of it all sickened Maggie. She was amazed that the Usher blood wasn’t rife with inherited defects. Perhaps it was, but she couldn’t prove it.
And their love of Devil worship seemed boundless. Even as far back as their founding house here in America, at the time of the Virginia colony-or whenever they first came over-were secretly worshiping the Devil. By the time of the witch hunts, they became targets but escaped to the hills and built their sanctuary there…where they would remain for a decade. When the witch hunts ended, they moved to Boston. There, they built one of two houses of Usher.
In Boston, their manse was known as Darkwald Keep. Made of the finest black marble, it was an impressive structure. Inside, it was a mix of congeniality and demonic templar mystique. Gargoyles, demonically twisted visages, and strange symbols mixed with contemporary to make a sickly-yet-intriguing sight. But, beyond the exterior rooms, there were secret passages leading to the black altar deep beneath the manse…buried beneath even the catacombs.
The second manse, that housed the other branch of the Ushers, was set up somewhere to the north of the first. Though a younger branch of the family, it would be the first to fall…the blood so tainted that their disease ridden house was prone to moments of catatonic spells that would often fool the other members into believing that the one who’d had the spell was actually dead. It was one of these such spells that destroyed the last living members and their manse. A fire destroyed them and again, a fire had brought an end to part of the first house. It was strange, but merciful, how each end mimicked the other. The woman, or women, had brought the houses of Usher down. She couldn’t help but laugh.
But back to the graduation, she had to admonish herself. This had nothing to do with the houses of Ushers. They were only distant relatives and very distant memories now. They were to be committed to memory, then forgotten. The remnant that were present in the auditorium had more than atoned for their ancestors’ sins. They had nothing more to do with those who’d died.
As Brenna started her speech, Maggie sat back and soaked it all in. Four graduations down, only six more to go. If she could make it until all her children graduated, and possibly until at least one of her children gave her grandchildren, she could die happy. Lord, how she wanted to make it that long.
She knew that she could make it to the final graduation, but she couldn’t tell when her first grandchild would be born. Surely Todd wouldn’t have any children. He was bound by an oath of celibacy. He’d chosen God above family.
Phillip was in college, Sandra was in Nashville, and Brenna was headed out to college as well. Phil had said something about having a girlfriend, but had said nothing further. Sandra was too consumed with the desire to follow her music that family was the last thing on her mind. Still, she’d told Maggie that she’d have children someday…just not soon. Brenna was too excited about studying. She wouldn’t have time to pursue any boys once she reached Cambridge. So who would be the first to give her grandchildren?
VI. LAZARUS AND HELLENA’S LITTLE MIRACLE
A short time after Brenna’s graduation, Lazarus and Hellena announced to everyone that Hellena was pregnant. For the longest time, she had been under the assumption-mainly because the Doctors had told her as much-that she would never share the joy of having a child with anyone. Now, here she was…about to do what she’d been told was impossible! It was her little miracle!
Maggie threw them one hell of a baby shower. Lavish, it surpassed even the largest of such events with it beauty and excess. The presents were such as only ever seen in most peoples’ dreams. But, then, Maggie would have nothing less for one of her best friends. And what Maggie desired, others around her seemed to desire. What better way, she’d once said, than to blow wads of cash on one’s friends?
There would be a new Usher to carry on the new Usher legacy. Maybe there would be more to breathe new life into the tired old line, but time would only tell. Right now, there would be a bit of doting to do when the miracle baby arrived. And it was going to be a miracle baby. A miracle they’d all needed.
VII. DANELLE MARRIES
Weeks after her graduation, Danelle made her mother very proud. Though attaining a 4.0 in school, and having graduated a few college courses while still in high school, she had decided not to go on to college for a few years. Instead, having fallen in love with a young man that Maggie very much approved of, she had decided to focus on having a family.
Though only a year after Brenna’s eventful graduation, and journey to college, it was a surprise to Maggie that Danelle had decided not to follow her brothers and sister into college. Still, it was a pleasant one. Maggie wasn’t sure how many more years she had left to enjoy. She’d begun to tire easier in the last few months. It felt as if she had the weight of the world coming down upon her shoulders.
A year later, seeing her mother’s condition worsening, Felicity followed Danelle’s lead and married right after graduation. She knew that it did sadden her mother to see two daughters not going on to college right away, but they had both decided as juniors that they would be the first to give their mother grandchildren. They’d both known that their mother might not have that much time left. They could see her health worsening and knew that time was growing shorter for her.
Charles, on the other hand, did go on to college. He’d gotten a dual football/science scholarship to the University of Illinois. He had worked harder than the rest, but still made a 4.0 grade point average. He’d joined nearly every association in high school and planned to do the same in college. Maggie couldn’t help but be proudest of him…yet, she was proud of all her children. They had all turned out fine despite her shortcomings and mistakes while raising them.
Samantha went on to a two-year community college so as to be able to take her time and be somewhat free in case if her mother was to get worse. Sure, Lena and Sonny were still at home to help take care of her, and their father-Con-was there also, but she wanted to be somewhat free to go and help them if things got too bad. She wanted to be a nurse. How fitting!
Magdalena, or Lena as she was called by all, and Sonny still had a few years to go until they graduated. They had been the last to be born. They would be the ones to see their mother suffer the most. And when their mother suffered, their father suffered even more. When their father suffered, it hurt them.
He was such a kind and gentle man. He’d never laid an unkind hand on them. It was just that he was never able to handle much pain. Hell. His whole life had been nothing but a series of painful incidents. He was not allowed to see his older children, their half brothers and sisters, from his other marriages. They weren’t even allowed to see their brothers and sisters. And they felt that this was wrong. Con had never done anything to warrant that kind of abuse from anyone.
VIII. SANDRA COMES HOME
Sandra stood at the door of her mother’s penthouse apartment. She, the prodigal daughter, had returned. Though, not permanently, she was home. Sonny had contacted her, telling her of their mother’s slowly failing health, and she’d decided to come home. She’d had a lull in her career. Well, not really a lull, but rather, a self-imposed pause. She’d been working on material for her second album, but had come to a major crossroads. Of course, it had taken the form of performer’s block—a type of writer’s block, though also affecting her performance on the current material she’d compiled. Thus, she paused on that unfinished project and come back to Chicago.
Maggie was shocked to see her.
“What brings you home, my dear?” Maggie asked weakly.
“You do, Mama,” Sandra answered, “I wanted to see you. I’ve missed you so much.”
“You know that I’m so proud of you, Sandy,” Maggie stated, “don’t you?”
“Yes, Mama,” she replied, “but I’m not here to hear you say
- I just wanted to see you. Besides, I was having some trouble on my project so I came back to rest.”
“We’re glad to have you home,” Maggie replied, smiling, her tiredness seeming to disappear, “Todd has been by a few times in the past week to check in on me…but Lena, Sonny, and Connie take good care of me. It’s so embarrassing. As a parent, I am supposed to take care of you children and of my husband. But seems as if they’re having to take care of me.
“I am not going to beat around the bush. I am not doing well. The illness is starting to take its toll on me. I get weaker every day and it is definitely getting harder to breather. It’s disconcerting. I hate it. But I have had a good life. Perhaps it is my time.”
“Don’t talk like that, Mama,” Sandra begged, “you still have so much life to live…and so much wisdom to give. You have just barely begun to live.”
“You’re right, you know,” Maggie answered, “I guess that I just grow tired of this burden that has been given me. The disease, you know, not you children. You were never a burden. Nor has Connie. It’s just this damned disease. I am running out of will to fight with.”
“I understand, Mama,” Sandra replied, sadly. She hated to see her mother suffer this much. But when would it end?