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Local writer has ghost story to tell

December 12, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

It was a fitting day for Robert Savage to recount his story.

The Shepherdstown, W.Va., computer software expert led a reporter down a gravel lane in the heart of Antietam National Battlefield as the cold gray skies started to produce a light snowfall.

Savage made his way to the Roulette Farm and began to tell the tale of a young girl named Ariel and the strange occurrences she experienced there.

"It's an old-fashioned ghost story," Savage said of his award-winning screenplay titled "Bloody Lane," named after the road that runs through the battlefield. "It was a lot of fun," said Savage, who devises ideas for new software but has been trying his hand at professional writing.

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"Bloody Lane" is a story that mixes history with the modern issue of residential growth.

The Roulette Farm had been privately owned until about 2001 when it was acquired by the National Park Service.

That's where Savage's story takes its own turn.

Instead of being turned over to the National Park Service, in Savage's story, it is sold to a housing developer.

The developer only builds two houses, which are sold for a bargain after the laborers won't come back to the work site anymore, Savage said.

One of the homes is sold to Ariel's parents, who really want a historical home but are forced to settle with a home in Battlefield Estates after their Realtor tells them they would not be able to afford any historical homes in the area.

One day, Ariel walks into an old barn on the property. The door slams shut and a voice calls out her name, but refers to her as Arabelle, Savage said.

It turns out that the voice is that of a boy named Jeremiah, a drummer in a drum and bugle corps during the Civil War. Arabelle was Jeremiah's girlfriend during the Civil War and he tries to reunite with her in "Bloody Lane."

All sorts of strange things happen with Ariel.

Her parents get her a piano in hopes of sparking an interest in music for her.

One day, Ariel's mother is washing dishes in the house when Ariel begins playing Civil War tunes flawlessly on the piano, Savage said.

Ariel begins to take an interest in drawing. One day, her father, who moved to the area to take a teaching job at Shepherd University, finds one of Ariel's sketchbooks outside the door to the barn.

He opens it and sees drawings Ariel has created of severed human limbs, Civil War hospitals, a drummer boy and a self-portrait.

"All of these things build and build," Savage said.

So far, "Bloody Lane" is getting high marks from one group.

Savage entered the screenplay in the 4th Annual Anything But Hollywood screenplay competition and won the contest.

"Bloody Lane" was selected from a group of 30 semifinalists, which later was narrowed to 10 finalists, according to a press release.

"Bloody Lane is the perfect modern horror film, comprising elements of the campfire ghost story with a dysfunctional-family drama, that gets a lot of mileage out of low-key scares and creepy atmosphere that jumps from the page," said Andrew Dignan, the contest coordinator. "The script was an absolute page turner and was a lot of fun for all of us," Dignan said.

Savage said the chances of having a screenplay turned into a movie are slim, but having an organization recognize a work is a great boost and increases the chances of the work getting into the hands of a producer.

Savage said he is eager to get the word out locally about his work.

"My thinking is you never know who lives in the area or has a special interest in this type of thing," Savage said.

Originally from Long Island, N.Y., Savage runs a computer business out of his home. He and his wife, Ann, have lived in Shepherdstown for five years.

Savage was an English major in college and once wrote a novel while he was living in Italy, although it was not published. He also wrote a comical screenplay as practice in writing material for films.

Savage said he did a month's worth of local historical research before creating "Bloody Lane" and it took about three weeks to write.

"It was one of those circumstances where the characters were really speaking for themselves," Savage said.

Antietam National Battlefield was the site of General Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North in September 1862. In the battle, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in one single day, The September 17, 1862, event led to Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

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