The Walking Man was a collaborative fiction project on the Web in the earlier days of said network. It was hosted on a server named poeticus (I forget the precise URL) and coexisted with another site of the creator's named Network 23. I think it was the first thing on the Web that made me want to write something, anything.

The server vanished, after a while, and I have never again been able to find the previous contributors (save one) or content from the Walking Man, no matter what Google or Raging or Lycos I wield. Therefore, I declare the Walking Man dead and in need of reincarnation. All hail Walking Man!

Here's the deal: all contributors write a short piece, between a couple of paragraphs and a couple of pages long. The only requirement is that each piece begin and end with the Walking Man...walking. He walks from one vignette to the next, and only his journey brings each jeweled story to the light, briefly; a moment spent in examining the glistening gem of each bit of fiction before it is returned to the box to await the next passer-by.

I propose to restart the Walking Man here on E2. All are welcome to contribute; in fact, if y'all don't, I'll get quite lonely! Here's the scoop. I'll start (natch, it's my proposal) and post (below) a piece I wrote for the Walking Man that never managed to get posted before the server went away. Note, again, that it begins and ends with the Walking Man walking. Yours must too, and that's the only rule. You're allowed to revisit characters or scenes from other writeups, divulge information about the Walking Man (although I strongly discourage this until we've built a fairly large body of work) or introduce who- or whatever you'd like.

I discourage writing about the Walking Man himself because although he may be the catalytic focus of these tales, they're not about him; they're about what he sees, does, and walks through or past. If, later on, when we've all contributed stuff, you feel there's something about the Walking Man that must be told, then write it! However, I warn you now: I do plan to exercise some editorial control over the project. As I'm an E2 editor, I have an unfair advantage. Still, I promise I won't ever touch a writeup that represents actual effort without speaking (/msging) with the noder first.

At the end of the node, I'll leave a hardlink to the next Walking Man node. I may or may not assign a title; that's up to each noder who writes one to decide. All I ask is that we try like blazes to keep this thing linear. If you have a writeup to post, do it at the end of the chain; although referencing previous works is great, please keep those references inline, in hardlinks.

This could be a lot of fun. Here goes, and I hope you'll join me.

Wow! He's on a roll! Many, many thanks to all contributors; I hope you're having at least as much fun writing them as I am reading 'em!


The Walking Man


by The Custodian - writeup title Walking Man Cycle

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The Walking Man looked up to the deep long well of blackened sky to see the sign between him and the stars. Coherent Starlight, it read, proclaiming to delimit and pointing to design. The road stretched on beyond him now to left and right, the arms of his own body's compass prolonged horizonagonal, vanishing to either side. Streets of blackened slick smooth surface and sidewalks of mirrored jet with small thin strips of no-slip surface; short slices of grey and reflective particulate trapped in the matrix.

He passed Kent, or Kent passed him; it was difficult to tell. Kent was not much more than a vector, now, in this slightly Schrödinger frame; a legend told to children that the Walking Man had met once in his journeys near the side of a forgotten onramp to a road that never was. Kent, they said; hear the story of Kent and when you see him he sees you. If you are a good child he may reach down from his different frame and scoop you up on his way by; lift you into the realm of reference prime, or wherever his vector is zero, a shifting sliding world of curve and motion. The Walking Man looked hard as the blur overtook him, looked into its heart as its centerpoint passed him by and in a frozen slice of time he could see the figure merged with the bicycle in fluid function, mirrored planes on most of its surfaces now. Their vectors diverged in time and space, and with an imagination wave cresting the rear wheel the vector that had been Kent arrowed off into the plains before him. The children watched it go, the tens of them that now stood by. The Walking Man regarded them quietly as he traveled, one foot in front of the other, and Kent's story was passed on between them silently, a web of events that stretched (cats cradle) across the road between the children. As the Walking Man passed through it, the images revealed themselves-

Kent had begun by bicycling. It was a nice rhythmic activity that didn't require much beyond a sense of balance, and it took him where he wanted to go. Not that a bicycle was easy to find, requiring as it did once it had been found the trade of a million stamps to prize it from the grip of its previous owner who sat in his customary place along the side of Coherent Starlight Boulevard, watching the highzone executives and their companions and parasites walk by. The man sat day after day mumbling through crusted and filthy lips an endless tune of monotony that no-one could understand, although some had tried. He was simply too smelly to make the effort a prolonged one. But he had the bicycle, and Kent wanted it to take him where he wanted to go. So that day in June when the sun was kneading the backs of the houses and people who alike walked with bent frames below, Kent clutched a million stamps in his hand and gave them to the man, closing the limp (free) fist around the wad of plastifax and whispering in his ear the sum of one million one million one million. The man stopped mumbling for a moment, long enough to focus his eyes on Kent's left earlobe, and then slowly released his other hand from the bicycle's frame. Kent imagined he could hear a click.

The Walking Man moved further, eyes no longer on the road but on the bicycle behind the wall of imagination:

The bicycle fell, then; Kent was not quick enough to catch it before it toppled, perhaps for the first time in years, to the pavement that lay beneath the feet of the man and the houses alike. It was silver, and had not rusted, and the tubes and rods of its frame glistened in the sun, reflecting only icy white hues from its surfaces. Kent touched it, ran his hand over the handlebar and the warning reflector, disturbingly smoothly mirrored, on the front. He walked it away quickly, not wanting to seem a fool in front of the unnoticing dummies that paraded in their endless circles on the street of Coherent Light Boulevard, not wanting them to know he could not ride a bicycle. The wheels rotated silently in the frame as he walked it awkwardly into an alley, far enough down to be around a corner from anything he could see.

Holding it with one hand, he tried swinging a leg over it and fell in a heap to the ground with the bicycle tangled up in his legs. Righting himself and the bicycle, he tried holding the handlebars while swinging over it but only succeeded in allowing the machine to run away from him when he put weight on the controls. Standing back and feeling angry and by turns confused annoyed irritated and satisfied, he asked the bicycle what to do. It did not answer him, merely looked ahead with a perpetually eager expression and silvery unwatering eyes forever slitted against the wind.

Finally he managed to mount it without mishap, and stood there a moment astride it, with his hands on the handlebar imagining himself racing, being alone in front, feeling the others behind him. He wasn't sure what the others were, only of their existence, and it was a good feeling to him in the purple light of the sun. Racing was not to be the end of it all, however, and the corner returned in its stark light and angular shadows and coriolical surfaces and most of all the steam that seemed to rise from the metaphor of the alley, wet as if after a rain, with the surfaces exhausting heat in plumes of white fluff and the cardboard boxes and the metal containers dripping condensation in silvery globes each the size of a miniaturized earth.

Riding took longer. However, he soon learned to lean, to feel the machine, to stop thinking about it and to let the wheels and pedals turn beneath him and keep him from the pavement by their interposition in space, and to shove firmly at the base of his spine when he forgot and ran over a curb or a bit of debris by mistake.

Once he could ride, he left. He left his block, his section, his area, and his neighborhood- he had only been further than this on the bullet, and the bullet didn't run in the direction he was going. Perpendicular; the word of the day, to strike out away from Coherent Starlight, to be normal in the eyes of geometry and find the ninetieth degree and make it a part of him. Kent could feel his body traveling up past eighty-nine and on to ninety before he was happy with his travel.

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The differing rhythms of walking/riding shimmer through the Walking Man as he pursues his own internal clock, his legs the vertical component, the sine, of Kent's wheels in the vision through which he journeys. The children watch and wait for reference shift:

Pumping, pumping, left, right, left, right, the pedals go around and around and around and the ground moves beneath him. A strange feeling, it is, to be propelling the world with only two rubber circles and a bit of metal, yet Kent can see it turning in its orbit, turning in response to the wheels, a little bit up, and a little bit down, and then-he realizes he doesn't even know which way Coherent Starlight runs. Is it east west? North south? Or, horror, some strange direction that falls between east of south by southwest and straight up? Kent can't envision such a direction, and in this failing, knows he cannot ride it either.

The buildings are more sparsely populated here, a few at each block, with spaces left in between almost as if they had grown tired of building them and had put in only enough to make the pattern recognizable. It is not the content, it is the form; can the pattern be seen? -then we need only a few to make it clearer; there is no need to remain true to its content. The grey color of the buildings dimmed a bit more. City as always remained unchanged, superbly unperturbed by the switch of its composition, and although the buildings were farther apart, City remained the same, not even diminishing in reality like a hologram does when some of its lased images are removed from the beam. The grey was still there, and the damp, and the steam, and the noise- Kent realized that although the noise was indeed still there, it had suddenly become much more background, and indeed was almost entirely separate from the world in which he pumped and pumped in order to get where he was going.

He wished he knew where that was. Although it was true that he had never been anywhere, and thus did not feel qualified to imagine where he was going, as it would inevitably end up looking like where he'd been, which would make the entire exercise pointless and degrading, Kent refused to consider that possibility. There was a somewhere he was going; it had cost him a million stamps and the lights and safety of Coherent Starlight, but that was inconsequential compared to the realization of the reward and prestige and fame and power that went with getting where he...was, well, going...where is that exactly?

No one is sure, therefore no one answers with any definitive tone. There are perhaps some insubstantial responses but they whisper through the rushes alongside a stream with the furry touch of the ethereal.

The Walking Man passed the last child, and turned his head, sight returning to the orbit of his eyes, and caught the smile on the last waif's face as it welcomed him onward, and wished him reference and vision. The gift of Kent's story remained within his brain, now, and he could barely see Coherent Starlight approaching up ahead, the bustling flows and silver roads with flight of metal and of man, and with quickened pace he made his way towards the meridian of this his latest imagination.

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Someone needs to write the Next Installment:
Walking Man 2

so do it, using the hardlink above! Yes, you.

This is a copy of the text posted to alt.hypertext and two other groups by Jack Graham in 1994. The project went missing soon thereafter with a reputed fourteen contributions, and was last mentioned in October of the same year. It may have continued quietly for a while but the best available evidence suggests that it didn't last long.

From: Jack Graham (jacker@nwu.edu)
Subject: ANNOUNCE: The Walking Man Project
Newsgroups: alt.hypertext, misc.writing, comp.infosystems.www.misc
Date: 1994-07-06 20:21:27 PST

Its first address was http://daneel.acns.nwu.edu:8082/poeticus/walk/walkhome.html, later changed to http://crow.acns.nwu.edu:8082/. The last known address appears to be the equally defunct http://www.pyro.net/~jack/bigtime/calliope/walk/. Apart from Graham, only one other contributor is known, and Graham's introductory story is the only one that I could find on-line. I contacted the other contributor and he was unable to find a copy of his own piece, so we should consider Graham's to be the only surviving part. It exists, to the best of my knowledge, only in one Usenet post and one mirrored copy on the web.

I did manage to locate Jack Graham in order to obtain information and ask for permission. It took me so long to update this writeup afterwards that my exchange with him seems to have been lost in the mists of time but I do not think that he objected (I'm on shaky copyright ground with "IIRC," I know--Jack, if you recall saying otherwise, drop me a note). I'm posting the original Walking Man here for historical reasons as it relates to both the history of the WWW and the E2 project which took on its name. I've deleted the submission guidelines (they're pretty close to The Custodian's) and have left the text that was the beginning of Walking Man, mark I, as I found it in Google groups. I'm not sure it's appropriate to reformat or hardlink it so I'm leaving it in all its raw, unedited, 7-bit glory.

WALKING MAN 1
Jack Graham, 1994

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  The man was walking on white gravel in a sunlit suburban alley.  It had
just rained, and the sun glinted golden off the dirty puddles in the pitted
ground.  Green weeds grew on both sides, and freshly painted garages grew  
even higher beyond the weeds.  A little brown dog barked at him from behind
a fence between two garages.  The air hummed with soft suburban sounds --  
the buzzing of bees and televisions, the whir of cicadas and lawnmowers.   
  He looked into the backyards he passed.  In one yard, two children played
a game with a hula hoop.  In the next, a woman sunbathed on a lawn chair.  
In a third, an old man in bermudas and brown socks with garters trimmed his
hedges into perfect cubes.
  A garage was open to the alley, and music blared from inside.  Three
young men warmed up on guitars and drums inside; a fourth smoked something.
 A heavy, rich, musky aroma of burning reached the Man's nose.  The young  
men smiled.
  The man walked further along the alley, following its course deeper into
the City.  He followed the same straight path, never diverging.  The gravel
grew grayer, the yards and garages less well-kept.  The weeds looked sickly
and had burrs.  Needles glinted golden in the pitted ground.  "SILICON,"   
read the brightly painted tag on one of the garage doors.
  The sky here was ugly and red.  He passed another open garage door, and
the same four young men looked up from their playing to smile at him.
"Garters, man... perfect cubes," said the one with the joint, "Later on,
silicon..."  But the man had already walked past him.
  The man went a little farther and stopped.  He turned briefly into a path
leading to a yard, disappearing from view.  Then he stepped back into the  
alley and began walking back in the direction from which he had come.  The 
garage door was closed when he passed it, and no sound came from within.   
  He continued to walk, but passed nothing familiar.  Seemingly not
bothered by this, the man kept walking.
  "You can never step into the same alley twice," and old derelict told
him, but the man never stopped to smell the vodka on the old derelict's
breath.
  Thump.
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