“I spy,” George said, “with my little eye, something that begins with S.”
“It’s slime, isn’t it?” Simon said. He was lying on his back on the cot in his dorm room. His roommate, George, was lying on the opposite cot. Both of them were staring up thoughtfully into the darkness, which involved staring at the ceiling, which was unfortunate because the ceiling was gross. “It’s always slime.”
“Not so,” George said. “One time it was mold.”
“I’m not sure we can really make the distinction between slime and mold, and I hate that I have to care about that.”
“It wasn’t ‘slime,’ anyway.”
Simon considered for a moment.
“Is it . . . a snake? Please tell me it’s not a snake.”
Simon curled up his legs involuntarily.
“It’s not a snake, but now that’s all I will be able to think about. Are there snakes in Idris? It seems like the kind of place where they’d drive the snakes out.”
“Isn’t that Ireland?” Simon said.
“I don’t think there are limitations on snake driving. Surely they got rid of the snakes. Must have done. Oh God, this place has to have snakes. . . .”
There was a faint tremor to George’s soft Scottish brogue now.
“Are there raccoons here in Idris?” Simon said, trying to change the subject. He adjusted himself on the hard, narrow bed. There was no point in adjusting. Every position was just as uncomfortable as the last. “We have raccoons in New York. They can get in anywhere. They can open doors. I read online that they even know how to use keys.”
“I don’t like snakes. Snakes don’t need keys.”
Simon paused for a moment to recognize the fact that “Snakes don’t need keys” was a good album name: It sounded deep for a second, but then completely shallow and obvious, which made you go back to the first thought and think it might be deep.
“So what was it?” Simon asked.
“What was what?”
“What did you spy that begins with S?”
This was the kind of game you played when you lived in a sparsely decorated room located in the basement of the Shadowhunter Academy—or, as they had started to refer to it—the floor of ultimate moisture. George had commented many times how it was a shame they weren’t slugs, because it was perfectly set up for the slug lifestyle. They had come to an uneasy acceptance of the fact that many creatures had made the Academy their home after it was closed down. They no longer panicked when they heard skittering noises in the wall or under the bed. If the noises were in the bed, they allowed themselves some panic. This had happened more than once.
In theory, the mundanes (or dregs, as they were often called) were down in the basement because it was the most secure floor. Simon was sure there was probably some truth to that. But there was probably a lot more truth to the fact that Shadowhunters tended to have a natural snobbery that ran in the blood. But Simon had asked to be here, both with the dregs and in Shadowhunter Academy itself, so there was no point in complaining. With no Wi-Fi, no phones, no television—nights could be long. Once the lights went out, Simon and George often talked to each other across the darkness like this. Sometimes they lay in their respective beds in a companionable silence, each knowing the other was there. It was something. It was everything, really, just to have George in the room. Simon wasn’t sure if he would be able to bear it otherwise. And it wasn’t just the cold or the rats or anything else about the place physically—it was what was in his head, the ever-increasing noises, slices of memories. They came to him like bits of forgotten songs, tunes he couldn’t place. There were remembrances of tremendous joys and fears, but he often couldn’t connect them to events or people. They were just feelings, batting him around in the dark.
“Do you ever notice,” George said, “how even the blankets feel wet, when you know they’re dry? And I come from Scotland. I know wool. I know sheep. But this wool? There’s something demonic about this wool. I cut my knuckles on it making the bed the other morning.”
Simon mmm’ed a reply. There was no need for any real attention. He and George had these same conversations every night. The slime and the mold and the creatures in the walls and the rough blankets and the cold. Every night, these were the topics. Simon’s thoughts drifted. He’d had two visitors recently, and neither of the visits had gone well.
Isabelle and Clary, two of the most important people in his life (as far as he could tell), had both come to the Academy. Isabelle had appeared to stake her claim on Simon, and Simon—in a move that astonished him still—told her to back off. It couldn’t just go back to the way it was. Not like this, not when he couldn’t remember what it was. And then in the training exercise, Isabelle had shown up and slain a vampire that was about to take Simon down, but she had done so coolly. There was a distressing deadness to the way she spoke. Then Clary had popped up. Be careful with her, Clary had said. She’s more fragile than she seems.
Isabelle—with her whip and her ability to slice a demon in half—was more fragile than she seemed.
The guilt had been keeping him awake at night.
“Isabelle again?” George asked.
“How did you know?”
“Educated guess. I mean, she showed up and threatened to cut anyone to ribbons who got near you, and now you don’t seem to be talking, and your friend Clary showed up to talk to you about her, and you also mumble her name when you sleep.”
“On occasion. You’re either saying ‘Isabelle’ or ‘fishy smell.’ Could be either, to be fair.”
“How do I fix this?” Simon asked. “I don’t even know what I’m fixing.”
“I don’t know,” George said. “But morning comes early. Best try to sleep.”
There was a long pause and then . . .
“There must be snakes,” George said. “Isn’t this place everything a snake could want? Cool, made of stone, lots of holes to slither in and out of, lots of mice to eat . . . Why am I still talking? Simon, make me stop talking. . . .”
But Simon let him go on. Even talk of possible nearby snakes was better than what was currently going through his head.
* * *
Idris did its seasons properly, in general. It was like New York in that manner—you got each one, distinct and clear. But Idris was more pleasant than New York. The winter wasn’t just frozen garbage and slush; the summer wasn’t just boiling garbage and air-conditioner drippings that always felt like spit coming from overhead. Idris was greenery in the warm weather, crisp and tranquil in the cold, the air always smelling of freshness and burning log fires.