Lola couldn't believe it. Of all the places on God's green earth, she was going back to Little Mowcliff. It felt like a betrayal of herself. She had only ever envisioned coming back for celebrations like Easter and Christmas, and that was only because she didn't want her mother to be all alone on those days. And yet, there she was, sitting on a train heading straight for Little Mowcliff, with Charles by her side.
She looked out of the window, watching the fields pass by, and she wondered if it was too late to head back. A cold sweat was beginning to form on her back just thinking about her hometown and the horrors that were surely waiting for her there. Charles had given her a brief rundown of the Church of Dagon. If what he had told her was to be believed, then they were both destined to live in some undersea city once they reached maturity. The thought made Lola nauseous. She couldn't imagine herself diving down to the bottom of the sea, and she dreaded the day when her reflection would be completely unrecognisable to her. Even now, she could see the changes in her reflection in the train window, like playing a game of "Spot the Difference ''. There were dark circles under her eyes, and her skin had a slight tinge to it. Whether grey or green, she couldn't really say, what she did know was that she looked like shit. She suddenly wished she'd bothered to put some makeup on before they'd left. Even a lick of concealer under her eyes would've made a big difference. As it was, she could pass for Charles' long lost cousin.
"How are you feeling?" he asked her.
Lola sighed. "I'm nervous. I don't even know what I'm going to do when I get home. I mean, I'm supposed to confront my mum about all this, but then what?" Tears pooled in Lola's eyes and spilled over onto her cheeks. "What happens to me next? I can't exactly continue modelling if I'm going to end up looking like Mr. Toad."
Charles put his arm around Lola's shoulder and pulled her closer to him. Instead of moving away, Lola allowed herself to lay her head on his shoulder. Just for a moment. She just needed to cry it out.
"It's not so bad, you know," said Charles.
"Being like us. I mean, the undersea city is meant to be really nice. The architecture is a lot more advanced than what's on land, and I think we live much longer than normal humans too."
Lola allowed the tears to evaporate on her face, making her cheeks cold. She appreciated Charles' attempt at trying to cheer her up, to see the bright side of things, but it wasn't helping at all. She'd rather live eighty years as a normal human being than a thousand years as a deep one. That's what Charles said they were: Deep Ones. Even the name sounded ominous. Lola sobbed.
"I also happen to think that your new look suits you," Charles said, grinning widely. "You should embrace the transformation."
Lola eyed him dubiously. It was the strangest compliment she'd ever received.
"Remind me why you're here again, Charles?"
"To protect you from any cultists."
"Ah," Lola said. She sat up straight and turned away from Charles to look out of the window once again. She tried hard not to focus on her ghastly reflection.
Lola bit her nails as she waited for the door open, ruining her manicure even more. The door opened, and behind it, her mother stood with slumped soldiers and a frown. The frown deepened when she caught sight of Charles, who flashed her a toothy grin.
"I had a feeling you'd be back," she said, her blue eyes glittering with unshed tears, "I see you've made a friend."
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Nesser," Charles said.
Lola felt a flash of anger. "You have a lot of explaining to do, mum."
Her mother pinched the bridge of her nose as if a headache were coming on. "Let's talk inside. Please."
Lola abided and entered the house that had been her home for eighteen years. It was taller than it was wide, with a functioning chimney and thick vines of ivy crawling all over the brickwork. Inside, the wallpaper was still dated and peeling, and the scent of oranges and myrrh hung heavy in the air. She saw Charles' eyes water at the potent aroma, and she smirked.
They sat in the living room, near the fireplace, and her mother asked if they wanted anything to drink. Although thirsty, Lola didn't want to waste any more time.
"We're good thanks," she said, "We came-well, I came-for answers. This necklace I'm wearing," Lola lifted the chain up so that her mother could see the pendant, "Where is it from?"
Lola's mother lowered her eyes, "It was your father's, you know that."
"Ok, but where did he get it?"
"Lola, listen, if you've come all the way back here then I think you already know the answers to these questions. I can already see the change in you."
"But I want to hear them from you!" Lola said, her voice rising. She realised she sounded whiny, like a spoilt brat, but she was beyond frustrated. "Why didn't you tell me, mum? You should've warned me-"
Her mother broke into a sob, covering her face with both hands. Her body shuddered as she wept. Lola was silent. She had never seen her mother cry before. Not once.
Her mother wiped the tears away quickly, and then looked at Lola with a face full of rue. "I didn't know, Lola. I thought-well, I was hoping-that you wouldn't be like him, like your father. He never told me what he was, you know. We met in the city, far away from the sea. It was only after you were born that he started to change. That's when he said we had to move here, to Little Mowcliff. Even then, he never really told me why. He just said the city was no place to raise a child," Lola's mother shook her head, "By the time you were one, he was no longer the same man I'd married. He spent half his time in the sea. He couldn't help it."
Lola let the tears fall freely from her eyes. "Is he really dead?"
Lola's mother inhaled sharply through her nose. "I don't know, Lola. He disappeared into the sea one night and never came back. That's as good as dead to me. But you must know that he loved you, and that what happened to him wasn't his fault, just like what's happening to you isn't yours."
"There must be a way to stop it," said Lola quietly, "I can't just vanish into the sea. My life is here."
"That's exactly what your father said, towards the end, when he was lucid. He wanted so badly to escape it, Lola, but he was lucky, you know. He didn't start transforming until his late twenties. Most start in early adulthood."
Like me, thought Lola. She glanced at Charles, who was sitting with his head lowered, like he was embarrassed to be privy to their family history.
"Do you think the church could help us?" she asked him.
He lifted his head and turned to her. "The Church?"
"Yeah, of Dagon. That's our God, isn't it? Do you think maybe they can help us stop the transformation?"
Charles bit his bottom lip as he thought of an answer. "Hmm, I don't know. I don't think it's ever been done before. If you're one of us then you're one of us, and there's nothing you can do to change that. It's in our blood, Lola."
Lola's heart sank. She knew that Charles was right. This wasn't some curse that could be lifted with a wave of a wand or a spell, their condition was genetic.
"Okay," said Lola, her voice breaking, "but maybe I can slow it down. You know, so I don't fully transform until much later. My dad managed it somehow, to keep his true nature at bay for so long. Maybe I can too."
"That might work," said Charles, "That soup they gave you seemed to speed up the process, so who's to say it can't be slowed down?"
Lola grinned. She grabbed Charles' hand and gave it a little squeeze. "That's exactly what I wanted to hear."
"So what are you planning on doing now?" asked her mother.
Lola looked out of the window, at the blackened church on top of the cliff. "Well, I think it's high time I went to church."