This turned out a bit longer than what I anticipated. It turned out well, though, at least I think so.
“I now pronounce you Husband and Husband!” The minister pronounced with glee as the newly christened Oscar and Eugene Motfield-Mabury kissed to the delight of 20 friends and family at Fountain Park in central Daybus, Ohio.
“I love you so much,” Eugene whispered as the kiss ended and the couple turned to face their guests.
“I love you, too” Oscar replied, squeezing his beloved's hand.
The crowd blew bubbles as they ran down what passed for an aisle to the waiting limo, whisking them to the reception hall. A few drinks of champagne, some loosened bow toes, and a lot of laughter later, they arrived at the Party Barn, which had graciously accepted their money to hold the after party.
The DJ introduced the wedding party, everyone got seated and food was served. Catered of course by friends of the grooms. A first dance for the couple to “Fire with Fire” by Scissor Sisters. And then it was time for Oscar to give his groom a wedding gift.
“Eugene and I have been together going on 5 years now,” he said; the microphone being passed to him. “Not long after we moved in together, I wrote this song for him, but never let him hear it. So, tonight, it's my gift to him.”
With that, the DJ turned on the pre-recorded backing track. Oscar sang to Eugene a song of lovers finding each other against all odds. With that, he kissed his groom and returned to his seat. As more normal dance music came on for the guests, Eugene leaned over to his husband. “Sugar,” he drawled in the cute Georgia accent that had first drawn Oscar to him, “I'm going to slip out and smoke right quick. Can you behave?”
Oscar smiled, realizing that three of his exes were in the crowd, which was a source of jealousy from Eugene. “I'll try not to breed anyone on the dance floor while you're gone, sweetie.”
Eugene gave Oscar a long suffering look and stepped outside for a cig. Oscardidn't seem him again that night until long after the sirens had come and Eugene lay in ICU.
* * *
Six months after the wedding that had ended with Eugene lying in ICU beaten to a pulp by rednecks out to do a little fag bashing, a now healed Eugene stood fighting with Oscar in the living room of their apartment.
“What do you mean, you're leaving?” Oscar roared.
“I mean just that, Oscar. I'm leaving. And where I go, you cannot follow.” Eugene said this with such a lack of emotion that it carried the force of a slap to Oscar.
“But, Eugene! We're married! Does that mean nothing to you?”
“It does. But it doesn't matter enough here.” With that, Eugene quietly picked up his bag and calmly walked out to the waiting taxi.
Oscar barely kept hold of what was left of his dignity to keep from chasing Eugene out the door. What did he mean, 'Where I go, you cannot follow'? Oscar reflected on places where Eugene might go, and came up empty. Most of his family had died before they'd met, and Eugene barely talked to the one brother left living. Maybe someone at his work would know,
Oscar thought, searching for his cell phone.
“Enchanted Florist, this is Maurice, how my I help you?”
“Maurice, this is Oscar, Eugene's husband? He just left with a packed and he wouldn't say where he was going. Any idea where he might have run off to?”
“That's odd,” Maurice said. “He told me when he left last night he probably would be gone for a few weeks if he came back at all. No, he didn't say what he was doing or where he was going. Which is odd, since he's usually the queen of too much information. Have you talked to Henry?”
“Who the hell is Henry?” Oscar stammered.
“Henry. He was working as a delivery boy here, but he quit two days ago. I know he and Eugene hung out a lot when you were spending the nights at the studio.”
“That son of a bitch. He accused me of cheating, and he was getting some on the side!”
“Oscar, calm down and relax. There was never any funny business between them. Neither of them has any concept of discretion. All of us would have known.”
“Let me try calling Henry. I'll call you back if he knows anything.”
Oscar returned his cell to his charger and then sat down at the keyboard to try to write again. The music wasn't coming, although lyrics to just about every Country song about getting dumped were playing through his head.
Oscar's phone rang about two hours later.
“Oscar, this is Maurice. I got a hold of Henry. He said he knew where Eugene is, but he'd rather discuss it in person with you. Would you be willing to meet him later tonight at Celebutant's?”
“Did he give you a time?”
“Midnight. The break between shows.”
“Any idea who's performing tonight?”
“Artisa Misan is allegedly headlining.”
“Well, at least if this is a bust, it'll be entertaining.”
“Just to reiterate something you already know, Eugene loves you. God knows why, but he does. Whatever is going on with him, it isn't that he fell out of love with you. Just remember that.”
* * *
Around 11, Oscar arrived at Celebutant's, a local drag showbar. As advertised, Artisa Mison was indeed headlining. Evidently she was well on her way to getting a national title in drag pageants and getting renown withing the gay community for her parties at Sacred Spring Resort. Towards the end of her set, Oscar noticed a gent with rather curly Mr. Brady hair walk in. The hair alone drew in the eye, it seemed to be sticking out on the sides with an almost independent mind of its own. The face it was attached to reminded Oscar a bit of a Botticelli cherub. The man seemed to be wearing tight fitting Aeropostale shirt and jeans, and he had Air Force Ones on his feet.. He walked directly up to Artisa, gave her a kiss on the cheek and a $20 tip before heading towards Oscar's table.
“You must be Oscar,” the man said, extending his right hand. “I'm Henry.”
Oscar shook his hand and motioned him to sit.”Pleased to meet you. You know where Eugene is?”
“Peace, good sir. Please, let me order us a round and we'll talk.” Henry flagged for one of the wait staff to come around. A few minutes later, a shot of Ouzo sat in front of Henry and a shot of scotch sat in front of Oscar.
“My husband?” Oscar said, staring at the Scotch.
“Technically, I'm not supposed to tell you anything either,” Henry stated, sipping his Ouzo. “However, my father has great respect for you music, as do a few of my brothers. Thus why I'm kind of here on the down low.”
“Please Henry. Eugene's boss tells me you guys hit it off when you worked together. I need to know where my husband is and if he's ok.”
“He's on an island in the river across from Port Muskingum. On the island is the Tartar Bathhouse. He went to meet with Papa Hadron.”
“Why? Why would he go there? Our rules were we could only play together or apart in the same location! Why would he go halfway across the state to a bathhouse for God knows how long without me?”
“These are answers I can't give you, Oscar Thrace. Only Eugene or Papa Hadron can answer them for you.”
“How the hell do I get there?”
“I will take you as far as the ferry. From there, it's up to you.”
“Take me then, Henry.”
“As you wish.”
* * *
They approached the ferry dock as the sun started to rise the next morning.
“A few things I must tell you before you catch the ferry.” Henry warned. “The ferry will take you across for money. Admission into Tartar Bathhouse and any of the areas within won't. You'll have to find another way to pay. If you can find your way in, you must seek out Daddy Hadron. He's usually in the dungeon supervising.”
“I wish you could go with me,” Oscar said. “I've come to enjoy your company on this drive. I see why Eugene liked you so much.”
Henry smiled. “While I can and do go in on occasion, Daddy Hadron still gets a bit irritated with me for my role in trying to help Boy Peter's other Daddy find him a while back. I fear my help in getting you in would only serve to make things worse.”
With that cryptic utterance said, Henry motioned for Oscar to get out and catch the ferry.
Oscar walked down to the dock, noticing that the sunrise really hadn't taken off yet, leaving everything covered in a predawn light. The ferry waited on the dock jutting out from the river. As soon as Oscar approached, men milling around the dock began approaching him asking for fare across the river. Oscar ignored them and walked out the dock, where the ferry's operator asked him for two copper pieces. Oscar dug out two quarters and asked the ferryman to use the change to give the men waiting a ride. Teh Ferryman, dressed in a flowing black poncho scowled at him, but none the less motioned for some of the men waiting to come aboard.
The ferry was not large, but it seemed to accommodate many many men crossing the river. Oscar sat toward the bow, watching the island approach across the still dark water. Will the sun never rise?
In what seemed like an hour later, the boat set down on the island. Oddly, the island seemed to be mostly one big hill. The sun still wasn't up. A sign reading “This way to the Tartar Bathhouse” stood in front of a cave up the trail and farther up the hill from the dock. Oscar followed the line of men upwards.
The cave opened into a large chamber about 20 feet in. Three men in dog head shaped hoods and paw shaped gloves were chained together outside of a series of columns and a door leading into what Oscar could only assume was the bathhouse proper. While they ignored most of the men passing by, the three turned in unison to growl and bark at Oscar, threatening to chase him out of the cave if he came closer. You'll have to find another way to pay
, Henry whispered in his head. Along with My family has great respect for your music.
Could the answer really be that easy?
Oscar began singing A Capella, choosing one of his first songs ever written, “Ode to a Beagle”. The song, silly, but about his dog growing up, seemed to lull the dog boys, as they lay down in unison and rolled one their backs asleep. Oscar continued singing as he opened the door and walked through the door into the bathhouse.
Inside, the men milled around, more or less making their way towards the three booth attendants. The three seemed to be pointing men to various entrances behind them. One looked up and saw Oscar.
“Who are you and why are you here?” the man boomed across his table of towels. It seemed to fill the hall.
“I am Oscar Thrace! I came to find my husband!” Oscar boomed, trying to match the man's voice. This hall had serious acoustics.
“You may not pass without good reason, Good Oscar,” one of the other men intoned, even as he passed a towel to one of the men in front of him.
“Yes, Oscar,” the third man started. “That you passed by Cerberus says that you must have some reason to be here. Tell us, Michael and Aaron and Roger, tell us Oscar, why are you here?”
Oscar exhaled. And sang one of the songs he wrote for Eugene after they started dating. The story of how they met. “Love on a Grindr”.
The three men sat in rapt attention as he sang. Finally, the man who spoke first, Michael, handed Oscar a towel and pointed towards the left most hallway. “Daddy Hadron is usually in the dungeon. Seek him there. But please, keep singing, Oscar Thrace. It has been too long since something stirred my heart like that.”
With that, Oscar started down the left hall, stopping as he his a locker area to switch out of clothes and into a towel around his waist. He walked through the recesses of the bathhouse, moving on from singing of meeting on Grindr to moving in together. As he walked, he noticed men stopping in their lovemaking to listen to his song.
He finally found the stairs down to the dungeon and descended, still singing.
At the bottom of the stairs, he first saw a man chained to a table that seemed to be rotating at an awfully fast speed. Then a man chained to the sides of a hot tub, unable to bend his neck to reach a straw sticking out from a glass of water. Another was chained to a wall where a man wearing a plague mask was flogging his stomach. And yet another appeared to be trying to move an immovable rock while someone else flogged him. More conventional leather activities also were happening, and everyone seemed rather happy about them. Sitting on what looked to be a throne on the back wall, a pale man in a chain harness and leather jock sat getting his boots polished by one ecstatic boot black.
“Daddy Hadron, I presume?” Oscar asked, looking at the man. As Oscar spoke, everything in the dungeon stopped and all turned to look at him.
“You presume correctly.” The man stood, standing so tall he seemed to touch the ceiling. “Why have you come, Oscar Thrace?”
“I've come for my husband, Daddy Hadron.”
“Did he not tell you, where he goes you must not follow?”
“He said something of the sort. But Daddy Hadron, I love him. I can't lose him.”
“Son, his coming here was by his choice. To keep you from suffering just as much as it lessens his own.”
“That makes no sense at all!” Oscar cried.
“Daddy, give him a second to explain himself,” a young man clad in vibrant sarong said, stepping in from behind the throne. “That he has passed all the guardians should prove his devotion. Perhaps Eugene and you were a bit hasty in this.”
“You may have a point, Boy Peter.” Daddy Hadron turned and kissed his Queen. “Tell us of your love for Eugene, Oscar Thrace. If my heart is swayed, I shall release him to you, if he so agrees.”
And so, Oscar sang again the song he'd sung so many months ago at the reception. Boy Peter started crying first, then Daddy Hadron started bawling as well. The boot black handed them both tissues.
“Oscar Thrace, as you have broken my heart and that of my Boy Queen, I will grant your request. Under a very particular set of restrictions. Walk out the door on that wall,” Daddy Hadron said, pointing at a door on the left wall. “That will take you into the blackout maze. Eugene will follow. If you turn to look at him before you both leave the maze, he will remain here with me. If you make it out without looking, he may return with you with my blessing.”
Oscar walked over and opened the door to the maze. True to its name, the maze was black. However, as he stepped in he felt a presence at his back. Maybe Daddy Hadron was keeping his word, even with the silly deal he'd made.
What a silly deal. Oscar began feeling his way along the walls of the maze, trying to ignore the sounds of heavy breathing and clandestine passion coming from elsewhere in the maze. A moan and a giggle. Oscar thought back to the long ago Grindr conversation that had brought him to meet Eugene over dinner at Colby's, a local burger chain that had pictures of Joan Collins on the walls. Dinner, coffee, then back to Oscar's apartment, which at the time had been filled with recording gear. Another turn in the dark maze.
Moving in together after 6 months, as Eugene's lease had run out. Trying to find ways to combine households in a small apartment.
</i>Circling back around in the maze, or so it felt.</i>
The 2 year fight, when Oscar had slept with an ex after a night of binge drinking. Eugene, who had been the one to suggest the open relationship in the first place, was livid and spent 3 nights with his ex. Thus the new arrangements in the open status. Another hallway, and a bit of wetness on the floor. Still can't see much.
Fours years in, the new apartment thy could afford with Eugene's promotion at the floral shop and Oscar's selling a few songs to national acts. The engagement rings exchanged at the threshold. A red EXIT sign appears to be near!
The wedding and the reception. Eugene going out for a smoke. Hearing sirens after his smoke break had been going on nearly 30 minutes. Coming out and finding Eugene a bloody pulp on the sidewalk. Just a few more feet...
Hearing from a witness a guy had asked to bum a smoke, got mad and started beating Eugene, yelling “FAGGOT!” after Eugene didn't give him a smoke. Realizing no one stepped in to stop it, sitting by Eugene at the hospital as the doctor gave him almost no chance at survival, and no chance at all of full recovery if he did survive.Wait, what's the beeping sound?
The beeping got louder and more intermittent as the exit approached. And... Wait... He had no chance of full recovery?
Oscar stopped a few feet short of the door out and the conclusion of the deal with Daddy Hadron. Something was off here. And the beeping was louder. I have to know.
Oscar turned and saw the bloody pulp of Eugene that had followed him through the maze.
Eugene reached out a hand towards Oscar. Oscar held it, hearing the beeping grow louder and and more prolonged in its noise. As he watched, Eugene's body began crumpling into dust, the held hand last to fall. His hand empty, Oscar looked at what was now a shade of Eugene, restored to the beautiful man he loved. The shade mouthed “I love you” and faded back into the blackness of the maze at the beeping at last became one long continuous BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.....
Oscar opened his eyes as the doctor shut off the heart monitor. The lifeless shell of his Husband lay on the hospital bed, having taken its last breath. May Daddy Hadron take care of you,
Oscar thought, Until it is my time to join you.