Modern works (and by this I mean works published within the last 10 years) are woefully underrepresented by ICHF so far. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but it’s still something I’m trying to remedy. And since Horror Flora is
a shameless ripoff of following in the footsteps of partially inspired by the famous horror website Bogleech, it’s probably fitting that one of the first Horror Flora ICHF articles is of a character from said site. So let’s talk about Harmburger.
Like a lot of horror characters whose stories dwell on the internet, Harmburger isn’t limited to a single series in the conventional sense. There’s no “Harmburger 4: the Final Chapter” or what have you. Instead, he stars in 1. a creepypasta that shares his name, 2. A now defunct ARG (alternate reality game) called Burgrr.com, 3. a cameo appearance in the Twine Choose Your Own Adventure “Don’t Get Spooked”, and 4. a meatier (heh) supporting role in the webcomic Awful Hospital. It’s important to mention all of these stories when talking about him, because the weird tapestry of different mediums, tones, and character focus he gets between these four tales all serve an important role in fleshing (heh!) out his character.
Fans of my tumblr know that I harbor an intense dislike for how the term “eldritch abomination” gets thrown about willy nilly onto characters that really don’t meet its criteria, and I’ve been asked on a couple occasions just what makes an eldritch abomination. The basic definition of the term I was taught is that it’s a creature whose biology and nature defies explanation and understanding – or, to put it more succinctly, an eldritch abomination is a monster beyond our comprehension. A lot of monsters are weird, and a lot of them are hard to understand at first – but there’s a difference between not knowing something yet and being incapable of knowing something. Harmburger is a good example of a monster that is the later – it is a creature who defies explanation. In fact, if I was asked to give an example of a good eldritch abomination, Harmburger is on the short list of monsters I’d choose.
You may be baffled by this if you haven’t read the aforementioned stories. “Isn’t it just a silly cartoon hamburger with a cleaver? I mean, that’s weird, but it’s not exactly Cthulhu.”
Oh my sweet summer child.
Imagine this scenario: you wake up from a blackout in a meat locker filled with what are, to your eyes, the butchered and sometimes decayed corpses of creatures both recognizable (cows, chickens, etc.) and alien (whirling masses of tentacles, pus dripping porous meat bags, etc.) and in between (something like a chicken yet with human teeth and eyes in its knees, etc.). You have no idea how you got there or how long you’ve been there, except for vague memories to interviewing for a job at a meat packing plant. You travel through the disturbingly long and increasingly narrow meat locker, which quickly spirals into a labyrinth straight out of your more surreal nightmares, until eventually you come to this abstract and perhaps humorous sight: a giant anthropomorphic hamburger with scrawny human legs that’s brandishing a meat cleaver. As soon as you meet its gaze, it chases you with intent to kill.
It’s the kind of bizarre, preposterous nonsense that people see in their dreams, objectively hilarious for how little sense it makes yet terrifying when you’re trapped in it for exactly the same reason. It’s an insane scenario, one that makes no sense and yet still manages to draw out distinct and powerful feelings of fear from the reader. It is also how the world was introduced to this character, and immediately set up just what kind of monster Harmburger would be. It’s a creature that runs on dream logic – i.e. rules that infamously make very little sense to the waking mind. From the very beginning, Harmburger messed with our perception of what is real and what is not.
Harmburger next two stories – Burgrr.com and Don’t Get Spooked – were published at roughly the same time, but we’ll talk about the later first. In Don’t Get Spooked the animate sandwich has little more than a cameo, being a creepy yet ultimately harmless chef that cooks for the player character… albeit in a haunted house. It’s one of many silly guest appearances by monsters in Don’t Get Spooked, but it nonetheless contributes to the complexity of Harmburger’s character. No, seriously! In one story he’s a cleaver wielding killer, no different from countless other monsters except for the tone and visuals of the story he’s in. In the next, he’s simply a chef. The characterizations are fairly far from each other, united only by the vague theme of “monster cooks something.”
I know, I know, this sounds like I’m pulling stuff out of my butt even more than usual, but I’m building to a point.
Burgrr.com arguably puts the most focus on Harmburger of all these stories, even if he’s kept mostly in the background throughout it. On the surface, it was a website for a fictional corporation of restaurants ala McDonald’s, albeit one written in broken and often nonsensical pidgin English. Poking around the site (as well as a few mostly unrelated creepypasta features on Bogleech) would reveal passwords that, when typed in, gave the reader access to the diary entries of a person trying to unravel the mystery of “Burgrr.” We find out that the Burgrr restaurants sprung up overnight across the world, often in locations that were different stores before, or even in places that couldn’t possibly contain a restaurant, such as in the trunk of a tree. The restaurants defy the laws time and space to exist, and people are drawn to them in a state of hypnosis, eating the rancid and often alien meat products each restaurant produces. I don’t want to give the whole story away, but it’s basically a very bizarre sort of alien invasion, with Harmburger positioned as the leader of the strange food-based plot. It adds a third characterization to the character: that of the grand orchestrator of a massive genocidal “harvest” of living creatures.
Finally, Harmburger appeared as a major supporting character for one of the first arcs in Awful Hospital, a story we’ll be talking about again on ICHF sometime down the road. The human main character of the webcomic meets Harmburger in a cafeteria, where he seemingly works as just a chef. While initially presented as terrifying, Harmburger proves to be friendly and helpful, especially when our hero asks him to assist her on her quest for sloppy joes (long story). Sadly, he can’t make the sloppy joes for her until they fix the large, living meat grinder in the Dr. Seussian meat factory that’s attached to the hospital cafeteria (again, long story), and it ultimately spirals into a silly RPG inspired adventure, complete with the hero, Harmburger, and another Burgrr employee/monster teaming up to defeat a boss through ludicrous combat.
It that all sounds funny and not particularly scary, well, you’re right – it’s funny and, with the exception of a dark twist at the end, nothing particularly spooky really occurs. Harmburger is ultimately rather harmless in this story, and for almost any other character that would seem like a wildly inconsistent portrayal. But it isn’t.
Despite playing very different roles in all four stories, the general personality of Harmburger remains consistent. He is blissfully unaware of the suffering, disgust, and pain of the creatures he butchers. He is delighted at the prospect of feeding others his various meat dishes. He lives to further the consumption of flesh by everything around him, even going so far as to feed creatures flesh that came from alternate versions of themselves – which he completely fails to realize is more than a little disturbing. You can describe his mindset and actions and tell they’re all coming from the same creature, and they definitely make some sort of logic in his head, but it defies human explanation. Harmburger’s morality and relationships with other beings are not something you can really put into human terms.
Likewise, Harmburger’s physical existence is hard to pin down. His appearance varies wildly from tale to tale, and for good reason – as the author of these stories has said, there’s no one “real” Harmburger. The photorealistic rotting hamburger man, the cartoony hamburger with googly eyes, all are equally real. He doesn’t exist in a constant physical location, but rather in a nebulous plane of existence that sometimes does and doesn’t interact with our reality as well as others. It’s hard to really say what he is, whether he can be killed, and whether or not he’s really made of hamburger or just resembles it or both.
He’s surreal and runs on non-logic, just as many monsters from nightmares do. We can describe him, but we can’t really understand him. Harmburger is an inexplicable yet dread-inspiring monster, and one of the more unique creations of the internet’s many ghouls and goblins.
A thought: Harmburger’s morality isn’t good/bad, it’s meat/no meat