Yusuf tell I it prolly is some joke ting. He dont believe its Pop who said I all about the beast before he fell on the rug one hot night and didnt get up. Pop claimed he saw it with he own eyes when he was I age, when he brother and he followed a rat into the sewers to find the beast cause them rats know the city best. I heard they scary tales about the underground when Mom read to Yusuf and I before sleep as kids, before sheself turned into a woman full of pain and hatred like the beast. I used to love that book despite the sadness on she face, how that word—Shahmaran—filled the cover in big big letters, how the picture underneath amazed I with the beasts pearly black skin, this half-snake half-queen ting that look a lot like Mom.
Shut you silly tongue, I tell the beast when it appear in I dreams. You prolly on some joke ting.
Today, Yusuf and I swim the sewers to finish what we father started. Yusuf say the beast cant be killed because it immortal. He say she drink blood for water and eat babies for breakfast, chomp chomp. Yusuf talk a lot of trash but I know he heart is in good place. I know the beast isnt prolly even real, just some ol hags tale to scare we kids off the sewers. Theres just a lot of dark down here and the smell of pus. A lot of dirt with no color or content. Part of I want to stop already but the bones in I body say maybe its too late. As Pop used to say, theres those who wish to know tings and theres those who dont. No shame.
When we done swimmin and climb the stairs up the gutters, Yusufs face is black with rage. I know he hate to show it, for he want to be like them strongmen at the docks, quite and distant and angry all the time. Theres a loud hum comin down from the bowels of the gutter we in, and thats when I feel the first pump of adrenaline in I veins. Them rats show up by we side and scurry away in the direction of the hum as if Istanbul is some god they have to sacrifice for. Yusuf say come on, dont be a pussy, this word he heard in a cop movie just last night. He look at I like he mean it, like he this close to hurtin somethin, or someone, so I keep I mouth shut, as always.
As we draw near, a breeze wash over we sticky faces like Moms kind hand but the voices dont get louder for some reason. Them rats flow away in big big numbers as we steer left and right along the main gutter. At one point Yusuf draw he dagger glintin in the dark like an artificial moon and thats when I doubt if we doin the right ting by comin here, findin the beast. I think back on Mom and how she tried so hard for we to be moral men. She teached we to never attack mother nature, especially for we own benefit like them folks aboveground. Growin up I saw every bit of disappointment on she face for every side of we that resembled Pop, this rickety rickshaw man with generations of hunter blood in he body. He too was a rat heself in he own way, Mom would say, drawn less to the treasures of life than the treasure in the beasts lair.
Now its I whos drawn to the only treasure I got left in the world, Yusuf, who in he own way do the best ting he know by givin the stony door at the end of the gutter a nudge with the back of he dagger. A beam of light blind we all as the door groan open and then reveal the filthiest ting we seen in a long long while. Them rats step on each other to form this big big tower in the middle of the cavelike room and free the bones of they dead friends from the flesh with they teeth. Heads bowed, mouths parted, they sway to left and right while hummin a song for this crayon picture of a half-snake half-queen beast on the wall, as if its some false god.
We got to go, Yusuf say, fear startin to crook he voice for the first time tonight. We got to go, pussy.
Just when he take a step back toward the door, the picture on the wall glimmer with colorful lights or thats wat I think is happenin. I feel dizzy all of a sudden, and I hands feel no longer Is. In a matter of seconds, the picture become one ting and the wall another, only to appear before we eyes as this one big orb of light. It hum back at them rats squealin all around we with pleasure, they contours pale, eyes red. I turn to Yusuf to figure out if its only I whos seein it all, but theres a frog in I breath as Mom used to say, this fear becomin a lump in I throat and killin I words before they find a voice. All this time, we prepared weself for a beast but none of we ever saw a ting like it, this ghostlike bein thats almost as beautiful as Mom, she eyerings unevenly colored blue. I cant help but bow in she presence one tremblin knee at a time and hug Iself in the same way Mom would do to exorcise the part of sheself thats still achin. On the ground, the stones give in to I touch and swell against I palms. I feel the earth move under I, grumblin and grumblin like Pop.
He prolly is on some joke ting, I think or say out loud.
Yusuf dont reply.
I remember seeing a movie about Shahmaran as a kid and how the whole premise of this half-woman half-snake creature living underneath the city scared the living crap out of me. There was a quality to how the treasure hunters in the movie acted around the creature that deeply disturbed me to a degree I've never gotten around to seeing it again even as a grownup. So when I decided to use the whole myth of Shahmaran as a starting point for this short story, I preferred not to rewatch the movie but rework the whole thing from the memory I had of it. I suspect the subject material has differed to a great extent from the original mythology in the end but the version in my mind was the version I was interested in. Here is [a YouTube link] to the full 1993 film in question, starring Türkan Soray, the Turkish megastar of the times, as the eponymous Shahmaran.
And [here is a bit more] information on the whole myth of Shahmaran for those who are further interested.