Night was falling. Dark as it was becoming outside, even darker it was inside Sootwork's ramshackle home. The boy sat motionless and alone, neither dead nor sleeping, but simply as if having turned off. He was 'awakened' (or re-activated) by a strange string of thudding noises akin to many stomps upon the ground going here and there around the outside of the hut. There never being any visitor other than the post officer on a weekly basis, Sootwork thought that the day in question must have come again; he could not tell that, actually, only a few hours had passed since being brought the last batch of letters.
A frightening thought crossed the boy's mind:
"That noise of hurried footsteps... Oh! but surely he did not bring along his grandchildren, did he? What shall I say to them that will not disappoint and depress the little ones? How shall I receive in person their sentiments, when even words on paper leave me at a loss?"
But the thudding continued, and finally Sootwork realized, through the creaking and turning of his poor memory, that this was not the sound of children frolicking in a field. Rather, it was something else entirely: a kind of rapid, mechanical marching.
Worried and curious in equal measure, he opened the single entranceway and peered outside. The thudding thing was now behind the house, rounding its way toward the front. Something ran past Sootwork's vision, then made another lap around, then another, before stopping in front of him.
This... animal? vehicle? had two long legs attached to a large head, with no other major body parts to speak of. It ran in place for some moments, before the legs slowed to a stop. Steam hissed from the back of the feet for some moments, and the head opened on a hinge, revealing a lighted cockpit with a rather small creature who was apparently the pilot of this contraption.
"You're not the easiest fellow to find!" remarked the miniature visitor, laboring to pull several levers within the cramped quarters without also pulling a muscle. "Following that human with the satchel only got me so far, you see, since I can't exactly squeeze this Forerunner through bushes or whatnot. But with legs like these, it's a cinch to jump over fences. Had to hop into a few different yards, though. Did you know there's a big, mean dog right over..."
"I'm sorry," Sootwork finally interjected, "but... what is going on?"
"I told you, didn't I? that this thing I'm driving is a Forerunner Of Things To Come," the stranger replied, "and that I am therefore a Foreteller here to tell you something beforehand. Or perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. Used to be the actual folks like me that did the forerunning, but now it's machines that do the leg-work. A lot has changed in the last thousand years, that's for sure! No wonder you were confused, then."
But truly, Sootwork was still confused... on everything that had just been said, in fact. So he resolved to first seek clarity on just one point:
"You mean that there is some Thing To Come? and you're here to tell me about it?"
"See, I knew you'd get up to speed," the Foreteller replied. "That is: your Paragraph is nearly over."
"What do you mean: a 'paragraph'?"
"Well, if you know some other term for 'several Sentences strung together,' I'd like to hear it!"
"Oh, those!" Sootwork exclaimed, briefly glancing toward the many stacks of children's letters inside his home. "Yes, an odd way of saying it, but I do have a great many sentences on hand."
"And every one of them was deserved!" declared the miniature pilot with a 'tsk tsk' noise. "You must not've looked at them in a long while. Can't blame you, honestly; they're a fright for poor eyes."
Sootwork was quick to reply: "They're simply charming, actually, and some are quite recent...!"
Serious doubt then entered his mind, in regard to whether he and this visitor were actually on the same page.
"Forgive me, but are we, in fact, speaking the same language?" Sootwork asked.
"You do understand me, don't you?"
"In what sense?"
"Oh, goodness! the whole Paragraph is spelled out plainly enough. Just bring it here, and I'll..."
Sootwork made such a blank expression at this demand, that the Forerunner stopped mid-utterance, before backtracking to ask:
"You do still have it, don't you? Somewhere?"
"What... is where?" the boy asked.
"The thing we've been talking about!"
"And what would that be?"
"Egads! you've lost it, haven't you!? How long ago!?"
Sootwork, in lack of any better idea, reached into the newest batch of amateurishly scrawled letters and selected the one which most resembled a proper paragraph. The weird visitor excitedly plucked the paper away, but a strained reading of its contents informed him that his hope had been misplaced.
He returned the item to Sootwork's hand, and then ran his Forerunner in place for some moments, angrily pulling levers and mashing buttons inside the cockpit.
"To think that an Ignitius ...of all things!... could be so dim!" the Foreteller cried. "Goodness! did they ever get you good! And I'll foretell you this, I will: they'll have a heap of trouble with you again, soon enough. I'd bet this left leg on it!"
His frustration soon subsided, and with the legs of the Forerunner still in motion, he began to steer the contraption away.
"Now that you've been well and thoroughly foretold," the Foreteller called out, "you're as ready beforehand as you're going to get, unless you find the right Paragraph of Sentences."
...and if he said more than that, Sootwork could not hear it, for the curious pilot and his mechanical craft ran and leaped away and were soon beyond all sight and sound.
Sootwork looked down at the letter which had been returned to him, and earnestly wondered:
"What's so wrong with this one?"