Night was falling. Dark as it was becoming outside, even darker it was inside Sootwork's ramshackle home, filled with papers and journals stacked up to the ceiling, wrinkled from rain which would occasionally fall through the roof and then dry. He sat motionless and alone, neither dead nor sleeping, but simply as if having turned off.
He was 'awakened' (or re-activated?) by a faint series of noises. Was it time for another visit from the post officer? Poor Sootwork must be forgiven for wondering such a thing so soon, for in his current state, he had little sense of the passage of time.
But there was no daylight peeking in through the derelict walls and ceiling. So it must be night-time, he reasoned correctly. But then what was that noise? There was never any visitor but the post officer, and he always arrived on Wednesdays with good weather for sitting outside.
A frightening thought escaped from the small spirit:
"Could that be the noise of many little footsteps? Did his young children follow him one day and track me down? What shall I say to the little ones that will not only disappoint them? How shall I receive in person their sentiments, when even words on paper leave me at a loss?"
The faint noise grew louder, and finally Sootwork realized, through the creaking and turning of his rusty memory, that this was not remotely the sound of children frolicking on a lawn. Rather, it was something else entirely: the rustling of paper.
From inside his home!
It was the most recent stack of letters, in fact... shifting, shaking, straining... bursting with a fierce blast of air! Letters and envelopes both new and old flew about. Stacks of journals toppled over. The shack itself, already in sorry condition, fell entirely to pieces in a racket of worn-out wood colliding together and splitting apart. Sootwork's home and possessions were now one big pile of scraps.
Some dogs barked in the dark distance (possible just at each other). Some windows of the nearest houses lit up from wax-candles or oil-lamps. But at this time of night, in such a secluded and neglected spot where a number of back-yard property lines intersected and overlapped in a most unclear manner, no-one set foot outside to investigate.
In the light of the full moon, the poor spirit observed some person freeing himself from the wreckage. The fellow appeared to be an old man, wearing a cloak. Indeed, Old Cloaky's plan had proven to be a resounding success!
"You are not the easiest ...or quickest... fellow to find!" he declared. "Tell me: what day is to-day? Or, rather, to-night? What month? How about the year, at least!"
"I've no idea," Sootwork muttered.
"Well, what's one decade or another after an entire eon?" Old Cloaky smiled. "A drop in the bucket, that's what! And do forgive me for this little accident with your cabin, as well. Looked like it was a nice... er, well, my apologies, regardless. All in the line of duty, after all."
Poor Sootwork could only stare in silence.
"Speaking of which," the old spirit continued, "you'll be pleased to learn that the time has come at last: yes, your Paragraph is up! Has been for quite a while already, to be honest."
"What do you mean, sir," Sootwork asked, "by my 'paragraph'?"
Old Cloaky burst into a laugh: "If you know a better word for 'several Sentences strung together,' I'd like to hear it!"
"Oh, those!" the small spirit exclaimed, looking around at the disorganized letters and envelopes. "You might have an odd way of saying it, but yes, I do have a great many sentences on hand. I just seem to recall them being better organized than they are, at this moment."
"And each one of them was well-deserved, you rascal!" Old Cloaky remarked.
Sootwork picked up some of the old letters, perusing them wistfully.
"They are simply charming, aren't they? Honestly, I can't pick a favorite sentence or paragraph."
Old Cloaky fell silent for a minute as he watched the small spirit become engrossed with the great many children's letters, picking up handfuls and carefully stacking them.
"I'm starting to think..." Old Cloaky muttered, "that you and I might not be on the same page."
"Are we not?" Sootwork asked in all honesty.
The old spirit demanded:
"Tell me: what are you!?"
"I don't much care to read them," Sootwork mused, "but my journals mention that I used to work on fireplaces and flues, or something to that effect. To be honest, my old writings expend many words on details, but very few on spelling out the actual topic at hand. So I much prefer the children's letters. Little ones seem to think that I'm a great whatever-I-am. I do want to believe them."
Increasingly worried, the old spirit next demanded:
"And what am I!?"
This question required more time than the last, before the small spirit answered:
"Oh! Forgive me for not realizing, sooner, but it must have been many a year since our last visit. You are my old friend, the post officer! Retirement has deeply affected you, I see. If only your grandchildren could see where you are now...!"
It was just as Old Cloaky suspected: poor Sootwork was entirely in the dark.