Searching for Dystopia: The End of All Things Photoshoot II

Thus continues my quest to find images for a book trailer for The End of All Things.

Our next stop was a town called Matoaka, WV, which came to my attention because of this eerie video of its main strip, almost completely deserted, save for a guy bouncing a basketball in the middle of the empty street.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and except for a few more cars, it was almost exactly as it was in the video. I used my iPad to film the vacant buildings as we drove slowly up the street.

It seemed terribly sad. At one time, this was a bustling, prosperous little coal town, but economic hardship has dwindled its population to around 250, and the main street is almost completely vacant. The brick buildings are beginning to crumble away from neglect.

Looking at this town, I could picture what Carly and Justin saw as they traveled across a country decimated by the plague. The silence was heavy. As we drove down the street filming, the soft purr of my car's engine was the loudest sound I could hear.

One of the buildings had this dusty little Christmas tree in the window... in late April.

On the back side of the street, this one had an aquarium on the roof. I'm still puzzling over that one.

We next headed for a ghost town called Thurmond, which entailed a journey down more of those suicidally narrow, twisty roads.

They often ran right along the creek bed, with naught a scant inch of berm on the side.

I stopped to take a photo of this pretty little waterfall, walking back from one of the pull-offs along the road.

To my alarm, we had to cross a very unusual bridge to get to Thurmond.

Yes, that's a one-lane bridge constructed of metal grate. Train tracks run on the left side. As we approached, I nervously asked True Love if we were supposed to drive on it. He answered, very logically, that trains drive on it, so it certainly would support the weight of a car. As if to prove his point, one of the locals zipped by. I still wasn't sure I wanted to go across that thing. There's just something fundamentally wrong about being able to see through the surface upon which your car is driving.

I had to walk back out and take a picture of the river rushing below.

Directly in front of us was the train station, the heart of Thurmond. It's beautifully preserved, painted a cheerful yellow and red with white trim. Around it are information boards which explain how the town came to being, and what led to its eventual demise.

This tiny town was built in the heyday of the railroads, with shops, a bank and a hotel right beside the tracks for the passengers. Houses of the workers dotted the hillside.

 When trains switched from coal to diesel, it was a heavy blow for Thurmond. Not only did they no longer sell coal to the trains, but the new diesel engines needed less maintenance. The town began to die.

Today, Thurmond has about seven residents, who occupy some of the homes on the upper reaches of the hill. The rest of the buildings are owned and maintained by the park service. It's a shame this town isn't more well known because it's a fascinating bit of history.

As we were reading the panels, a train came by the station.  One of the information boards stated that the train will still stop at the station if prior arrangements have been made.

As the train roared by, True Love called over to me to ask if we were allowed to go inside the station. (We've been to historical sites where the buildings are accessible.) I said I didn't know and so he reached out to turn a doorknob.

The good news was, it was unlocked. The bad news was, it set off an alarm.

The siren wailed so loud, it drowned out the sound of the train. I reacted in a calm, rational, adult fashion.

 Who am I kidding? I screamed and ran like hell, tormented by visions of being arrested for breaking and entering or trespass. I shouted at True Love we needed to get the hell out of Dodge before the cops came.

He, on the other hand, was cool and calm. He said we should call the Park Service, but he didn't have a signal on his cell phone. We had to drive eight miles before he had sufficient signal strength to call. As he spoke with someone at the nearest branch office, we saw the rangers drive by. We followed them back, and I was rather glum about our prospects. "Do they have arrest powers?"

Yes, they do, and one of them was wearing a Taser on her belt when she emerged from the car.I nearly whimpered. But she was grinning as she walked toward us. "What did you do?" she teased.

Turns out, it happens all the time, and I didn't need to call my mom for bail money after all.

Sam and Tigger in Thurmond

We stayed and photographed some more of the little town, walking down beside the tracks to the buildings erected only a few yards away. The passengers would be only steps away from the bank or the hotel when they disembarked.

On the way home, we stopped to visit some of the natural wonders of West Virginia. It was the perfect ending for a fun-filled trip. (Except for the almost-getting-arrested part.)


  1. Great photos, Lissa! Sounds like it was a fun trip (mostly!). I look forward to watching the trailer. Carole

    1. Thanks! It's been a blast and I've taken hundreds of pictures. I'm leaving tomorrow on another trip to shoot more!

  2. I LOVE old ghost towns. There are some interesting ones out here in CA from the gold rush era, but they are disappearing quickly. My hubby would have a fit to wander around that train station. I'd be searching out the local cemetery, freak that I am.

    I finished The End of All Things over the weekend and enjoyed it very much, thank you.
    Is it impolite to mention that your representations of Sam and Tigger offend my brain? That Tigger looks like SHE was carrying Sam around instead of the other way around. ;)

  3. PS: that bridge is beyond not right. I would have screeched for the entire journey across the span. (Nods!)

  4. I would NOT have driven across that bridge...ugh...makes me shudder to even think about it!

  5. I just started my dystopia unit in my Science Fiction Literature class. These images work perfectly. At first I thought they were too colorful, but actually the neglected color makes it even more creepy.

    1. I agree. The color personalizes it and somehow makes it more poignant.

      I got a lot of amazing shots on this trip and I'll post more of them once I've finished my book trailer.


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