Gordon Dewey, G. & Max Dancey – “The Collectors” (1953)
Last year we had a haunted toaster, so this year we have a creepy vending machine secreted away in a subway alcove, which tricks people into giving it their change in return for nothing. This discovery is made by one “methodical man” who notices that he is inexplicably losing 10% of whatever cash he has on hand, every day, despite never misplacing anything at all (as if he was being tithed, nudge nudge). Retracing his steps, he ends up at his subway platform, deserted except for one woman waiting for her train. He sees her transaction with the vending machine, which he had never noticed before, but when he asks her why she didn’t get anything from the cigarette machine, she insists that it’s a gumball machine, and that she hasn’t gone anywhere near it. In the course of this conversation it comes out that she watched him do the same thing, which is news to him.
“Suppose there is something in the machine. A mechanism. Maybe something like a radio transmitter working with a battery. Controlling people’s minds when they come near enough. Making them put a few coins in the slot, not many; then making them go away and forget it completely. Tithing them!”
Together, hand in hand, they walked over to the machine, the quiet, waiting, unobtrusive machine there in the shadowed alcove.
They stopped in front of it.
They were still standing there when the collectors came.
Enigmatic! An effectively creepy scene! I wasn’t so sure at first that it counted as science fiction, but hey, it’s about a machine that exacts a social cost from people without their knowing or understanding, so how much more on-the-nose regarding technology and modernity could it be?