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DEATH TOLL

written by

Anthony Pittore

818.274.9348
AnthonyPittore@outlook.com ©2021
FADE IN:

EXT. OLD FORGE STATE FOREST - NIGHT

An ice-covered ribbon of highway snakes through an endless


stretch of virgin forest.

Silence, except for the occasional winter bird’s song, until--

An oil tanker SKIDS onto the interstate from a private road


out of the trees.

The private road leads back, deep in the trees. A hydraulic


fracturing pump looms tall in the center of an acre-wide
clearing: a fracking site.

A line of other trucks exit the site toward the interstate.

EXT. FRACKING SITE - PUMP DECK - NIGHT

A pair of men stride across the main platform. They navigate


between massive and LOUD equipment.

The older of the two is MACK BRIDGER (50s): aged to grey, but
still built like a Marine.

MACK
Cold’s been a real bitch on the
supply. Been dropping twenty points
a day since Thanksgiving.

He hands a chart to GEORGE WONG (30s), the living embodiment


of a corporate drone. He makes about 10x Mack’s salary with
1/10th the work.

MACK
Fluid backup ‘cause of the ice,
roads make it damn near impossible
to get the trucks where they need to
be. Surprised none of ‘em’s been
killed yet.

George studies the chart for a moment more, makes a few marks
on his clipboard. He looks up at Mack.
2.

GEORGE
Mr. Mack, as I’m sure you’re well
aware, that is all part of the
process. I’m not sure what you’d
like us to do. Should we shut down
all operations when it gets chilly
outside. Or perhaps we should
relocate the site down south?

MACK
Lookit...

Mack snatches the chart from George.

MACK
We’re losing about fifteen-grand a
day here, even with a skeleton crew.
Had to force ‘em all to take off for
the whole Christmas weekend since we
can’t pay ‘em time and a half. What
else do you suggest I do?

GEORGE
You seem to be well enough equipped
on security.

He gestures to FOUR SECURITY guards stationed at each corner


of the drill site. They pace back & forth eyeing the trees.

GEORGE
Those weren’t in the budget you
included with your bid.

MACK
Can’t lose ‘em. Last thing we need
is eco-terrorists sabotaging our
shit like they did in Binghamton.
We already had two underground
pipes split in the past few months.

GEORGE
How exactly would eco-terrorists
damage underground pipes?

MACK
I don’t know, but they goddamn did.

GEORGE
(not listening)
That’s all well and good, but I’m
still confused as to why you needed
us to come down here.
3.

MACK
Alright. Hear me out on this.

EXT. TRACTOR-TRAILER - REAR - NIGHT

Mack swings the trailer doors open to reveal rows of blue


chemical drums filled with SULFURIC ACID. Labels mark
‘FLAMMABLE’ across the barrels.

GEORGE
You want to use sulfuric acid in
your extraction lines?

MACK
Only with corporate’s permission,
of course. It cut break the slush
and cut our production times by a
third minimum.

GEORGE
You will not have our permission.
(rattles off legalese)
This is a banned practice known to
taint water supplies and cause
explosions. It’s illegal under
federal law.

MACK
We all know the usual shtick for
the press, but I just wanted to
keep the suits in the loop. We
started the process this morning
and our numbers of skyrocketing. We
hit triple digit extraction--

VINDIKO EMPLOYEE (O.S.)


(shouts)
Hey Mack! The pressure over here is
through the roof! Take a look!

EXT. PUMP DECK - NIGHT

Mack & George hustle across the platform.

Sparks and smoke launch from the ground. The ground beneath
them rumbles as they pass the wellbore (hole drilled into
the ground).

GEORGE
What is that?
4.

MACK
Nothing good.

The wellbore ERUPTS with a pillar of fire. Orange flames


BLAST fifty feet above the fracking site.

Mack is THROWN BACKWARDS off the platform.

EXT. FRACKING SITE - NIGHT

In the midst of the blast, FLASHES of movement surround the


camp on all sides, so fast they’re almost invisible.

A hyena-like cackle echoes around the site.

One by one, Guards and Workers disappear. The SHADOWY


CREATURE yanks them from the ground, upwards into the trees.

A TERRIFIED WORKER flees. The creature DECAPITATES him before


he can reach the trucks.

An ARMED GUARD gets his handgun out just in time. He aims it


at the trees, FIRES until the magazine CLICKS empty.

The creature KNOCKS the Guard off his feet in a blur and
pulls him into the woods. The Guard claws at the ground in
useless panic as he vanishes from view.

EXT. PUMP DECK - NIGHT

Mack struggles to his feet. His ears ring in deafened confusion.


He puts his palm over a gaping wound on his forehead.

He looks around the fracking site as his life’s work burns in


blood-soaked destruction.

MACK
Jesus.

Mack comes to his senses and races toward his truck.

MACK
Everyone out now! Argh!

He trips and slides face-first across the snowy ground.

Behind him is George’s tattered corpse in pieces. His lower


half gone. His entrails lead to a tree branch high above.
5.

MACK
What the fuck.

The creature SPEEDS at Mack from the treeline. His SCREAMS


for mercy are drowned out by the HOWLS of the ravenous beast.

Around the fracking site, the creatures feast with lightning


speed on the stragglers left behind.

EXT. TOLL PLAZA - INTERSTATE - NIGHT

Two tollbooths sit alone on a long stretch of road a way’s


from the off-ramp.

TOLLBOOTH 1 on the right glitters from the inside by a string


of colorful Christmas lights. A jolly SHADOW moves about can
be seen through the wreath-adorned door.

A total inverse, TOLLBOOTH 2 sits dark. An orange traffic


cone blocks its lane.

The CRUNCH of snow under car tires signals the arrival of--

INT./EXT. CADILLAC ESCALADE - CONTINUOUS

A black Cadillac Escalade rolls to a stop, a couple hundred


yards from the toll plaza.

Inside, CLYDE PETERS (late-50s) tenses his fists around the


steering wheel. His demeanor gives off an air of wealth, with
the affable features of a politician.

His daughter, ERICA PETERS (mid-20s) fidgets in the passenger


seat next. A weathered young face reflects the troubles in her
past. She keeps the silence awkward until Clyde speaks first.

CLYDE
Here we are.

A lilting Christmas song plays on the radio in the gaps of


quiet. Snow flitters onto the windshield before the defrost
melts it away.

CLYDE
I know this is a rough situation,
but your mom and I just wanted you
to know--

ERICA
Please. Don’t. Not right now.
6.

CLYDE
We’re trying to help you here,
Erica. That’s all I wanted to say.

ERICA
(scoffs)
Help me. Alright. Well, I’ll be
off. Thanks for the ride..

She leans forward to leave the car. Clyde catches her arm.

CLYDE
Yes, Erica. Help you. Do you think
your mother and I aren’t being
punished here too?

ERICA
I don’t need your help though.
That’s what you need to see. I can
take care of myself.

CLYDE
Your track record proves otherwise.
I don’t think any of us can afford
another one of your... stunts.

ERICA
“Stunts.” You’re not on the
campaign stage, dad. You can say
what you really mean here.

CLYDE
Sometimes I don’t like to be
reminded of it honestly.

Erica wants to be offended, but her phone BUZZES in her


pocket and distracts her. She pulls it out and the screen
lights up to reveal a text:

TRAVIS (TEXT)
Heard you’re back. Can I see you?

Erica pushes to reply and begins to type. She stops mid-word,


deletes the text, then shoves the phone into the glove
compartment with a growl.

ERICA
(frustrated)
Look, I gotta go.

Clyde looks disappointed, but nods.


7.

Erica opens the door. She steps out of the warm car and takes
a sharp breath as the frigid air hits her.

Before she closes the door--

CLYDE
Erica, I...
(beat)
I’ll be back at six.

ERICA
Great, see ya.

She SLAMS the door closed.

CLYDE
(sotto)
Merry Christmas.

EXT. TOLL PLAZA - NIGHT

Erica plows her way through the snow toward the tollbooths.
Clyde does a U-turn and drives away.

EXT. TOLLBOOTH 1 - NIGHT

The same Christmas CAROL from Clyde’s car plays from inside
Tollbooth 1.

Erica KNOCKS on the booth door. Her thick gloves dampen the
sound so she KNOCKS again, harder.

ERICA
Hello?

She opens the door and enters.

INT. TOLLBOOTH 1 - NIGHT

A desk stands against the large front window that overlooks


the plaza. A smaller window across from the door overlooks
the coin machine.

On the desk is a photo of a MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN next to a


United States Navy ballcap.

An older man (mid-60s) SNORES in a small metal chair. The


nametag on his rumpled and faded uniform reads FRANK RUSSO.
8.

ERICA
Please don’t be dead.

Erica CLEARS HER THROAT. No response. She reaches out and


JARS Frank awake.

He looks around the booth. Unsure of where he is for a


moment. After a moment, his kind eyes register Erica’s
presence and he smiles.

FRANK
Hey there! Sorry, I was, uh...
meditating. Finding my center and
all that. You know.

A moment of awkward silence passes between them.

FRANK
What can I do for you?

ERICA
I was told to come tonight. I was
just hired.

The lightbulb clicks on for Frank.

FRANK
Erica! Right? Of course, of course.
Have a seat, please.

Frank motions to an empty stool. She sits and removes her cap
& gloves.

ERICA
I’m a little late. Roads were hell.

FRANK
Don’t worry about it. Especially
this time of year. Just glad you
made it safe.

He holds out his hand to Erica to shake.

FRANK
Frank Russo, tollbooth operator
extraordinaire.

ERICA
Erica Peters.

They sit together in peaceful silence. Erica gets too antsy.


9.

ERICA
When exactly do we start?

FRANK
Start what?

ERICA
I just figured there’d be training
or something. Orientation video or
something.

FRANK
Nah.

ERICA
No?

FRANK
Not here. There’s not a whole lot
to really train you to do. Only
here as a stop-gap measure these
days until the new laws get passed.

He opens the window and points at an automatic toll-taker.

FRANK
That’s the future. Drivers just
toss their coins in there or take a
ticket to pay later. We can’t even
make change anymore because they’re
afraid of highway robberies!

ERICA
Then why do they need us?

FRANK
See, therein lies the genius of the
whole situation! They don’t need
us. But they also can’t fire us.
Union rules are set in stone
though, robot or no robot. Always
need to have the booths manned. Or,
I guess, womanned now?

Erica gives a pacifying smile to the dad joke.

ERICA
So we just stand here and do
nothing then?
10.

FRANK
Sometimes we have to give
directions too. But now that
everyone else has gotten one of
those “stupid phones” as I call
them with the maps on it, don’t
do that much anymore either.

ERICA
How do you pass the time?

A sly smile creeps across Frank’s face.

FRANK
If I tell you, it stays between us.
Tollperson’s Oath.

ERICA
Is that a thing?

FRANK
Nah. Here, look.

He opens up a cabinet under the desk and pulls out a small


13” portable TV.

FRANK
Ta da!

Erica is less than enthused.

FRANK
Got one in each booth too, so you
can watch whatever you want as long
as it’s on a local channel.

Erica tries to hold back a laugh.

FRANK
What?

ERICA
You know you can watch pretty much
whatever you want on one of these
“stupid phones” as you call them?

She pats her pockets looking for her phone.

ERICA
Which I’m now realizing I forgot in
my dad’s car.
11.

Erica sighs in frustration. A night without her phone.

FRANK
Ah ha! So now my little TVs aren’t
so silly, are they?

A wicked GUST of wind blows in through the open window. A


draft of snow blows in with it.

FRANK
Damn!

Frank scrambles to close the window. It sticks in the frame


halfway closed.

FRANK
Give me a hand here, Erica?

Erica helps Frank slide the stubborn window shut. It takes


considerable effort but they win the battle.

FRANK
Whew! Colder than a witch’s tit.

Frank catches himself.

FRANK
Oop. Sorry. Not supposed to talk
like that anymore.

ERICA
It’s okay. I’ve said plenty worse.

Erica brushes the snow off her front and shivers

ERICA
Anywhere to get something hot
to drink?

FRANK
I was about to make some cocoa
before my little meditation
session. You’re free to join me for
a mug.

ERICA
Not really a hot cocoa-type of
girl. I was thinking more like
coffee or... coffee?
12.

FRANK
We can do that too. Your booth has
the coffee maker.

He points out the door’s window toward--

EXT. TOLLBOOTH 2 - NIGHT

Erica & Frank head out into the bitter night.

FRANK
(over the wind)
This one doesn’t get much use
anymore. Gotta make sure we didn’t
get any critters sneaking in.

He pulls a set of keys from his coat and searches for the
correct one.

FRANK
Last year we had a whole family of
raccoons camp out under the desk.
Damn near scared the dayshift guy
half to death.

A flash movement in the trees grabs Erica’s attention. She


squints through the dark but sees nothing.

ERICA
Did you see that?

Frank looks up from the keys. He follows Erica’s gaze.

FRANK
See what-now?

Nothing there now.

ERICA
Never mind.

Frank returns to the keychain. A moment later, the LUNK of


the lock and the door opens.

FRANK
Here we are.
13.

INT. TOLLBOOTH 2 - NIGHT

Frank flips the lights on to reveal a setup almost identical


to his booth just in reverse. As Frank promised, the only
difference is the Mr. Coffee in the corner.

FRANK
Home sweet home.

Steam billows from Erica’s and Frank’s mouths as they try to


warm up.

ERICA
I think it’s colder in here than it
is outside.

FRANK
You might be right.

He turns a couple knobs on the heater, which GROANS and


BUZZES as it comes to life.

FRANK
That’ll warm up in no time and
you’ll be all set. It’s been on the
fritz the past couple years, so if
she starts to smoke up just slap
some snow on top to cool her off.

ERICA
Got it, I guess.

He points at the small table with basic appliances on it.

FRANK
Over there’s your coffee maker and
toaster for all your culinary
needs. Your lane is on the other
side through that window.

He kneels down and opens a small cabinet. The TV is inside.

FRANK
Like I said, our little secret.
We’re not supposed to have these.
But, on a night like this,
sometimes you’ll go ages without
seeing a soul.
(looks outside)
The quiet can drive you mad.

Frank’s momentary gravitas confuses Erica.


14.

ERICA
I can see that.

FRANK
Should be slower tonight on account
of the holiday. Even those workers
from up the road won’t be in for a
few days at least, I’d bet.

ERICA
Workers?

FRANK
Yup, just some drillers out in the
woods. Not even sure what they’re
doing. Probably won’t even see ‘em
now that they’ve got their own
little private road.

Frank puffs out a long sigh.

FRANK
Anyway, need anything else?

ERICA
I don’t think so.

FRANK
If you think of anything, I’m about
fifteen feet away, so just give me
a shout.

He steps out into the cold again.

FRANK
I’ll check in on you a little
later, but I’m sure you’ll catch
on fast!

He nods with a smile and hurries back to his booth.

ERICA
Merry fucking Christmas to me.

EXT. INTERSTATE EXIT - NIGHT

A black BMW SPEEDS along the treacherous unplowed road. Wipers


WHIP across the windshield as the snowfall increases.