Monthly Archives: May 2014

Brotherhood of the Burger

Brotherhood of the Burger

The other day I was on my way to my day job, for a closing shift in the paint department of a hardware store. That involves a lot of hazmat, cleaning, polishing, and dealing with ungrateful customers with the occasional appreciable contractor or do-it-yourselfer scattered between them. (When someone asks me about what I really do, I often joke that I dress up in black and fight crime for a living, but have had to take up a second job robbing museums to support it.) I stopped into a McDonald’s to pick up something that would stand in for my traditionally more elegant dinner, and ordered a number four sandwich, to go.

The man behind the counter was not entirely into his job. He was in his twenties, well dressed, had a few decent looking tattoos and jewellery, and a look to him suggestive of wanting to be somewhere else, probably somewhere specific. I waited around five minutes to receive my order, picked it up, and left for the hardware store just down the block.

I did not receive a number four. It was a simple sandwich, though this one was significantly simpler. It did not have a number. It was so off-key, it was unique in and of itself; no burger will ever taste quite like that one again. It made me stop in my tracks, in brief contemplation.

Some of you would have taken offence to this, walked back in, and demanded either a refund or the proper sandwich. I understand this, but for me, this screwed up burger was like a pat on the back from a guardian angel. The only way someone could possibly have screwed up a simple burger, which, let’s admit, amounts to very little in the grand scheme of things, was if they understood me; if the man that forged that burger in the McFurnaces felt the same way about their job as I do about mine. I have a degree in physics and neuroscience, I have worked as a software engineer many times, and I got the second highest score on the Putnam Mathematics Exam in my entire school during my freshman year, beaten only by a senior mathematics major. I work part-time at a paint department at a hardware store that has been reasonably good to me, because I ran out of luck in my twenties. This guy was exactly the same as me, just a bit younger.

I bit into that extraordinarily improper burger and savoured it, knowing that I was not alone. He may have been pursuing a degree in something more erudite than making burgers, or worse yet had one. Maybe he just needed the side job to pay rent.  Maybe he was a writer or musician, dealing with some hard times. I did not complain about his work, I comprehended it. I meditated on it. I celebrated it.

I even ate it (or at least, most of it). That brother at the fast food joint, on the other end of the burger? I salute him. I would follow that guy to hell and back.


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Posted by on May 6, 2014 in State of the Moment


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Chapter One (Water)

In the real world, people are seldom so clear-cut as to be good or evil, hero or villain. Often, we are a little of both. My own stories are patterned off of this, along with the knowledge that we each strive not so much for domination or comfort or righteousness so much as we do the comfort of equilibrium. While the diviner himself may carry the story, the predator is, in many ways, the centerpiece of it; enemy, friend, teacher, student, and conundrum. It is fitting to open the story with an introduction to it, even before the protagonist. Even in the classical sense, there are no heroes without villains; and while to make an enemy a friend may destroy the enemy, doing so is always with a sacrifice and a price.


© Michael Eric Oberlin, August 15, 2013

    A dark and hungry figure darted rapidly through the water, too quick for any prey to avoid. It moved in synchrony with the wind and the currents, a force of nature in and of itself. It snatched what life it had use for with delight, without fear and without hate, playing its part in the grander meaning of the world and the cycle of life. It swam out of the river and onto the shore, among the rocks and the fungus, carrying a startled fish in the grasp of its claws. Its weapons and tools were many, spines and hooks of polished stone, refined by the erosion of the water, sharpened to lethal points.

Where the myriad creatures of the wetlands were concerned, this beast’s hunger and intent marked the inescapable will of a god. They were the ink where this beast was a god’s pen, they were the paint where the animal was the brush, they were blood where the predator was a god’s heart.

The shadow crouched over the stone, and sank its teeth into its catch. In an act of mercy, it snapped the fish’s spine in its bright white teeth, numbing it to its demise. The beast had no animosity with this creature, only a strong appetite. The dark flesh of its fingers pulled away the skin and bone that it had no need for, as it gnawed on the raw meat. It picked its pointed teeth with a rib, sucked its fingers clean, and buried the remains beneath the deep red soil of the land.

No trace of its prey remained. The beast would come and go in a flurry, straight to the jarring business of its meal. The predator accepted the fish as part of its being now; a teacher, a friend, a lover, and a meal. It stretched, as a beast would, and standing upright and tightening every muscle from its toes to its fingers. That was a good meal, and it was grateful to the fish that no longer was.

It would go on, because of the fish. It would exist in the fish’s place, and continue its life where its prey could not. It thought that there was something strangely romantic about that. It would accept the lessons and responsibilities of its prey, like so many others, as their lives merged together in its consumption. Its stomach had stopped growling. It was complete.

The hunter was the very guardian of the wetlands, the embodiment of all of the things that forbade mortal man from entering. It stretched as a cat would, and stepped more slowly along the stones in its river, with a more casual strut in its legs. The swamp life shimmered around it, glimmers of fluorescent animals and fish shining through the mists; they signaled their cohorts and sometimes drew in their own predators. Sometimes, it was their prey. They formed an orchestra of glow, a language of light, in a world so shrouded by mist and fog that it had never known sun nor moon nor star.

The hunter wondered if it could glow, too, but was only darkness. It was the only one among its kind that it knew. It had no need for communication or schooling, nor even a context for it.

It climbed the rough bark of a tree, and stretched out in its canopy, flexing its lithe muscles. With a full stomach and a sleepy head, it could take a moment to consider the edges of its knowledge. It had learned a great deal over endless time from its traditional prey, but the one thing it could not learn was what it meant to have an equal, or a better.

It thought on this for a long time, and should have, for out beyond the boundaries of its mists and its waters, there was another land. Within it, there was another creature, who complimented its knowledge. This was a land where it could not survive, and a land it was destined to walk among. Someday, it would meet this creature, and with their meeting would come their perfect and beautiful destruction.

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Posted by on May 1, 2014 in The Diviner


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