Lazarus Branch, just small spot on the map, a few homes, a couple of shops, but mostly a collection of abandoned buildings situated at the very beginning of Dark Hollow. Just the skeletal remains of what once was a booming mining camp but are now just dusty buildings and faded photographs. Most of the businesses are shut down, their windows darkened with grimy layers of coal dust. They stare back at you, their sightless eyes making you think of all the secret things they hold inside, though mostly I imagine it’s just a collection of worn out furniture, field mice and spiders. Still, they give me the creeps. It’s as if they watch the world just waiting for a chance to unleash their horrors. Kind of the way Granny’s stories of haints do, even though I’ve heard them so often I know the endings.
There are a couple hundred residents or so still within the town limits and twice as many living on the outer edges that have Lazarus Branch as their mailing address. Many live in the older houses along Main Street, Camp Street, and Back Street. These are the original shotgun row houses built when the mines were booming. There are a few of the larger ones, where the bosses used to live, up on the hillside in the center of town on High Point Row. These houses are set farther back from the highway, with bigger yards and more privacy. There are sprinklings of the oldest homes interspaced with the others, homes that were here when the mining camp was built. And in places there are a few double wides and single wides that have been added in the last twenty years or so, on the land where the oldest rotting row houses were torn down and replaced with an aluminum house.
Most of the younger generation has moved away, searching for jobs and excitement in cities far from here. Now days Lazarus Branch is a community of middle aged and older folks or kids under 20, though the classrooms are small and the bus rides long as more and more of the smaller schools close. Only a handful of the twenty and thirty some things that live around here are employed – teachers, healthcare workers or county workers – the rest, well most are meth or OxyContin addicts living on the kindness of family or on disability or some other type of government draw.
To say Lazarus Branch is in the middle of nowhere is pretty accurate. The closest divided four lane highway is twenty miles to the west, and the nearest interstate is thirty miles beyond that. Over the mountain to the east is Greenbrier creek, an even smaller nearly abandoned mining camp, and beyond that is Hadley, the county seat.
The actual creek – Lazarus Branch – flows down out of Dark Hollow and meets Greenbrier Creek along the middle of town. It creates a small flat valley where the gas station and the post office – the town center I suppose you could call it – sits. There once was a company store, but it’s been closed down for ten years, I’d imagine it’s nothing more than a haven for generations of rats now.