Consequences are the "or else" in a story. The characters had better achieve the goal, "or else" something they don't want will happen, worsen, or continue to exist longer than they want. For example, in The Godfather, the Corleone family must find a new don and reassert themselves as the reigning family, or else they will lose face and become mere puppets of the stronger families. In Howard Hawks' screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby, David (Cary Grant) must obtain the million dollar donation or else he will lose his respectability and be labeled a nutcase. In Lawrence of Arabia, the goal is to learn Prince Feisal's political ambitions and how to neutralize any plans of uniting the tribes into an Arabian nation, or else the Arabs might get the idea that they can be independent of the British.
In some of Harlan Ellison's stories the only consequences for failure to reach the goal seem to be that things will go on exactly as before. Are these Ellison stories breaking the rule? Or am I misinterpreting something?
The Consequences in a story, such as in many of Harlan Ellison's works, are that a potential avenue of relief or escape has been denied or prohibited and therefore the quality of "spirit" has been degraded. There is a limited potential for hope or chance of relief in a story such as that, and when a Goal to escape is thwarted, some of that hope is lost. Consequences do not need to be tangible items. That's why items like Being, Becoming, Memory, etc. can be Consequences.