In this no place, nothing much ever happened. In fact nothing ever happened at all if you didn’t count the growing drifts of dust and ash from the Doorkeeper’s cigarettes and the increasing seediness of his uniform, brass buttons tarnished to a dull green and epaulettes disintegrating into specks like chronic dandruff over his shoulders. So when the Wheel of Life ground to a halt he noticed almost at once.
He debated leaving it at first. He closed his eyes and turned his back in the faint hope it would start up again on its own. No such luck. For the duration of five smokes he stood over it in silence, scratching his chin, shedding ash and specks of ancient gold paint.
The great book of The Rules hung from a hook on the Doorframe.
The Doorkeeper looked up ‘Wheel of Life stopping’, ‘Stopping of WOL’ and ‘WOL broken’. He also checked, after a great deal of careful scratching, under ‘halt’, ‘cease’, ‘end’ and ‘ash’. Nothing. The only entries which mentioned the Wheel of Life were ‘eternal’, ‘infinity’ and ‘forever’, with a small paragraph also at the end of the section headed ’perpetual motion’.
He had a cigarette, eyeing the Wheel of Life with grumpy resentment. He tried giving it a shove, but it was as heavy as Time. A kick earned him nothing but a half a minute of agonised hopping. He had another smoke and approached the Door where the speaking tube, once shiny and impressive, jutted like a grey, peeling carbuncle beside the book of The Rules. The speaking tube was so encrusted with ash and tar it took him the duration of another six smokes to scrape it out.
“Hello?” the Doorkeeper said into the tube. The sound of his own voice surprised him so much he had to have another smoke to recover: He hadn’t recalled it being quite so rough and croaky. He forgot for a moment what he was doing and began a rasping rendition of ‘The Doorkeepers Song’, which he had invented in the old days, millennia past, while still full of zeal for his new job. He managed to get to verse fifty-six before the coughing defeated him, so he had another smoke and wondered why the speaking tube looked so clean.
“Hello?” he said into it. The non-movement of the Wheel of Life reminded him that he was dealing with a crisis and he began to bellow into the tube, holding it close to his lips. “HELLO! HELLO!”
Nothing. He banged on the speaking tube, producing a hollow tone like a bell. A clump of something unspeakable dropped out and landed beside his foot. The Doorkeeper kicked it away in disgust and resumed his shouting, until finally, after three more smokes an enraged voice suddenly answered in a tortured screech:
“WHAT! Who is this! What in Eternal Time are you yelling for!”