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A Slot Car Carol (part 3) - Updated 11-May-2005

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Once more Scrooge stood at the corner of Fifth and Main. He scanned about him anxiously. He suspected once again he would be taken by surprise, but he didn’t relish the idea at all.

Sure enough, though Scrooge was certain he had left no approach unwatched, he suddenly found himself in the presence of another visitor.

The first thing he noted was the Stetson hat, since it was at his eye level. Although at first the hat appeared to be on fire, upon further investigation Scrooge found the smoke was coming from underneath. An acrid stench confirmed his suspicion even before the hat tilted up to reveal the face beneath it -- a stogie, of ill repute and worse lineage, was clenched in the teeth of that face. Scrooge tried not to gag on the fumes, or at the sight of the figure emitting them.

It appeared to be a man in his fifties, rotund, self-important, with a look of insincere joviality that further excited Scrooge’s queasiness. The Stetson was accompanied by a western-style shirt with button-down breast pockets, a string tie, a broad hand-tooled leather belt with a massive brass buckle. Tucked into that extensive belt was a device that filled Scrooge with loathing -- an auctioneer’s gavel!

“Dreadful apparition”, said Scrooge, barely controlling his terror, “for some reason I fear you more than any displaced person who has yet come to me. Tell me... am I in the presence of... the Displaced Person of Slot Cars Yet To Be?”

“That ya are, son”, said the fearsome visitor, “though I prefer to think of myself as between engagements”. The unnatural laugh that followed was like to freeze Scrooge’s blood. “We’ve got traveling to do, I don’t like laying about.”

“Can we... we need not fly... please, say we need not fly!”

“Nah, that’s for kiddies.” The cigar glowed hot as its owner worked it hard, volumes of smoke poured forth. Scrooge found himself wreathed in smoke. He soon could see nothing for the smoke. “This is how I prefer to travel”, came a hard, cold, unearthly voice from somewhere within the smoke.

The smoke slowly cleared. Scrooge found he had been returned to Slotworld. His escort strolled about, inspecting first one thing, then something else, appraisingly. Scrooge noticed that the premises looked down at the heels. The stock cases were all but barren, the tracks dusty.

Harold DiVictor, the owner of Slotworld was there, talking to a man Scrooge didn’t know. Scrooge had a dreadful premonition of the subject they were discussing, yet he sidled closer, to hear them better.

“I almost feel like I’m robbing a corpse”, said the man Scrooge didn’t know.

“You’re doing me a favor, Sam”, said Harold, “if I don’t sell this stuff it’ll be scrapped, I’ll get nothing for it.”

Sam looked at the merchandise, picking up a piece, turning it over, putting it down, picking up another. “There’s some good stuff here. I’m robbing you.”

“No one else wants it. Frankly I don’t know why you want it. If it makes you feel better, pay me more, I won’t complain -- I need the cash.”

“Good stuff. I could assemble a competitive car right out of this box.”

“Who will you compete with? Sam, the sport’s dead. No one wants this stuff anymore, ‘cept you.”

“Suppose you’re right. Well, just throw everything in the box. I’ll give you fifty for the lot.... no, I’ll pay fifty. I won’t be able to sleep otherwise.”

“Suit yourself. Are you going to come to the auction? You could buy yourself a track.”

“Well Harold, I don’t know. One of those tracks could be pricey.”

“Don’t kid yourself. Come to the auction, you might get yourself a bargain. I’m scared spitless that the tracks will be sold for scrap.”

“Scrap? SCRAP!!! No way Harold! Yes, I’ll come. Damn if I’ll let those tracks be scrapped!”

“Good man. See if you can get some other folks to come. I don’t care what the tracks sell for, I just don’t want to see them hauled away as firewood!”

Scrooge recoiled from the scene. He would as soon have heard an undertaker suggest that the butcher might have an interest in the deceased. “Displaced person!”, he wailed, “Surely this cannot be!”

“Oh it isn’t, not yet”, came the disinterested reply, “but it will be, soon enough. A poor lot it will be too. Hardly worth getting warmed up over.”

“But it can be stopped? Tell me it can be stopped! What can I do displaced person? Please tell me what I can do!”

“Why you can do lots of things. You can do anything y’all want to do. Will that stop this from happening...”, the displaced person left the thought unfinished. He took a mighty draw on his smoldering stogie, rekindling the tip to crackling brilliance. He gusted forth smoke like a Vesuvius.

“Oh but it must!”, choked Scrooge, caught in the pungent pall.

“Must it?” Another mighty draw, another eruption of smoke, “Well, maybe you can see farther into the future than I can. Do you think so?”

“I can’t (cough) see a blessed thing!”

“Well then look around you Scrooge. Perhaps what you see won’t be a blessing.”

And as the smoke cleared Scrooge knew he had been transported yet again. “This is MY house!”, cried Scrooge.

“Oh is it? Let’s listen in. You’ll find this interesting”, but the tone this was said in warned Scrooge. He looked on the displaced person as if upon Satan himself. Had his eyes glowed with the fierce fires of the underworld, Scrooge could not have perceived him as more demonic.

The two men in the living room were utter strangers to Scrooge. “Unusual?”, said one, “Nah, not unusual. I see cases like this too often. People get fearful and greedy at the same time. They can’t pass up a bargain. They can’t believe the prices are tumbling, that their holdings are losing value. As the prices drop they buy more and more. They go into debt because they think the market will turn around, and they’ll make a killing. Finally they see the market is collapsing and that they’ve waited too long, borrowed too much. Now they can’t sell because they can’t take the loss, so they hold onto everything as its value goes through the floor.”

“Surely the value of a collection can’t simply disappear?”

“Surely it can! These things go by generations. When the generation that collects kewpie dolls starts to die off, their kewpie doll collections begin to flood the market, and the prices head for the dumper. The smart investors bail, then the dumb investors. A few clueless souls end up holding the bag. Next its Lionel trains. A different generation, same story. What’s hot one generation is landfill the next.”

“Well it is astounding. This house is full of the stuff! I’ve never seen anything like it! It’ll take a week to clear it all out! What will they do with all of it?”

“Haul it away. Dump it. Nobody wants it. They haven’t made this stuff in years. Half of it nobody knows what it is, or why it was worth saving in the first place. Their wives don’t want it. Their kids don’t want it. It’s junk. Just junk.”

Scrooge turned a fearful eye on his companion, “Displaced person of Slot Cars Yet to Be -- am I right in supposing, I have, died? That these men are referring to my collection?”

“Oh no, Scrooge. Died? Oh no. Come Scrooge”, a puff of smoke hit Scrooge squarely in the face, “Come Scrooge, see.”

A dark, dingy, disreputable street. Cold air, frosty wind tore at Scrooge, who was not dressed for winter. He was aware of a figure, hunched against the wind, walking towards him, pushing a shopping cart. In the cart was a sleeping bag, a grocery bag which might hold a few provisions, dirty clothes, and, strangely, plastic boxes, plastic clamshell packs, magazines, books, other oddments.

Horror crept through Scrooge as that figure silently approached. Under the dirty knitted cap, deeply hidden in shadow, there was no feature he could recognize, yet with every step Scrooge grew more certain. His body began to shake, his hands trembled as they crept to his mouth. He wanted to cry out, yet he could not. There! Caught at last by dim light... There! Under the cap, framed by a threadbare scarf! His face!

His own face!

Scrooge collapsed as if all of his strength, and most of his bones, had suddenly deserted him. But if he had swooned, t'was only for an instant, for he buried his face in his hands and rocked back and forth on the icy sidewalk, the picture of despair. If a man makes a sound when his heart is physically torn in two, that is the piteous sound Scrooge made. The knowledge that all of his pride, all of his intellect, and all of his will had been bent on pursuits vain, venal and ruinous blew away his last defense, his final excuse. Peeled like an onion down to the core, what was left of Scrooge could only cry like a child that had lost its mother.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4