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The Justin

“Iaiguitsu,” said Ptah patiently.

“Yaygutso,” repeated the Justin.

“To draw, to shred, to sheathe again in a single thought: this is iaiguitsu, the heart of guitaido. Stevie couldn’t teach you this because he doesn’t know it. He’ll be a wandering bluesman until he understands.”

“I don’t understand either,” the Justin admitted.

“You will. Let me see the Martin.” Ptah pulled a hidden bead from the bridge and stretched it down the neck.

“A seventh string?” gasped the Justin. “What’s it made of?”

Ptah fretted out a power fifth with his first and last fingers, then held them aloft. “Metal,” he said.

The Justin

“What if the allirhinotiger is still there?” whispered the Justin, peeking over a dune.

“Amemet will stay away as long as you’re with me.” Ptah stepped over him and descended to the riverbank. “She and I have had words before. I think you dropped this.”

The Justin ran down eagerly to claim the battered and muddy Martin. “I can’t believe Stevie didn’t take it!” he exclaimed. “All right. I’ve got you, I’ve got my axe–time we blew this afterlife!”

“There’s something I must teach you before you go,” said Ptah, and the Justin was too happy to notice his implication.

The Justin

Muddy, exhausted, scared, hungry and alone: the Justin was perhaps feeling an appropriate amount of self-pity. He didn’t even have his boat anymore. Also, he was technically dead.

He sat on a sandbar a little ways from the shore, and tears ran salty in his mouth.

The Nile rose to lap at his sandals, then the seat of his jeans, his waist. The sandbar submerged itself. The Justin heard a soft sound: the current rippling, dividing around the ankles of a man behind him.

“Well,” said the man wryly, “cry me a river.”

“Ptah!”

They embraced like water and sand.

The Justin

As soon as they touched the opposite shore, Stevie took his shot at stealing the Martin.

“You kutchering punk!” shouted the Justin, and leapt out after him. He got hold of an ankle and the two collapsed in waist-deep river water. “Give her back!”

“You don’t deserve it!” howled Stevie, kicking.

“I earned her from Ptah himself!” The Justin hauled himself up and yanked at his end of the guitar, the neck–which, to his shock, slid out of the body with a steely rasp.

“Prove it,” Stevie grinned. He snapped off a length of cattail reed and assumed kamae.

The Justin

When the Justin divested himself of material goods, he donated most to the worthy cause of the Teen Choice Awards; but some he had buried. Thus he had a gondola in the next world, and a pole.

He had been pushing down the after-Nile for days, looking for Ptah, when a stringy-haired hermit with a Strat called to him. “Coins for the ferryman,” he cried. “Silver dollars from my blind eyes, for passage across.”

“Wrong river,” said the Justin, “but I’ll take you for free.” He poled in through reeds.

“Bless you!”

“What’s your name?”

“Stevie,” the hermit said.

The Justin

The Justin followed the shiver of reedy torchlight to a great stone hall, where in the judge’s seat sat a man garbed in deepest black.

“Anubis?” asked the Justin.

“Perhaps,” said the god. “What do you seek, living man?”

“My friend Ptah.”

“Then you know nothing,” the god said, “but we will judge you all the same.” He gestured, and there were scales, and a feather, and a hungry crocohippolion.

The Justin placed his heart on the scales.

“How can you do that, living man?” asked the god curiously.

“Oh,” said the Justin sadly, “the Girl tore it out years ago.”

The Justin

The truth of how the Justin became a sensei is simpler than the rumors, and less believable. It begins with his flight to another Memphis, the place called Ineb Hedj, White Walls: the desert city, once home to dead Ptah. He sought his friend’s resurrection. He carried the Martin and two silver dollars.

The ruins were sparse and stripped of stone, but the Justin walked unerringly to a simple hole in the sand. He waited. Memphis was also called Ankh Tawy, That Which Binds the Two Lands.

At twilight, the Justin stepped down into shadows, from this world to the next.

Minnesota

The Justin and his Martin are weathered, but they fit together now. Ptah is at his side.

“So,” growls Evil Special Interest Man, “you defeated my charcoalsuits. But I wield the power of the monotheism lobby!” He dials a number on his tiny phone. Ptah gasps and turns to dust.

“He’ll be back,” says the Justin. “That’s what Ptah does.

Evil Special Interest Man shrugs. “Regardless, the music industry lobby wants that guitar–”

He reaches out with slithy fingers. Justin grasps the action figure in his pocket and hopes.

“Not so fast!” roars the Body, bebooted and beboaed, springing to life.

Tennessee

“Deploy snowboards!” shouts the Justin, and he and Ptah slam sliding into the side of the black glass pyramid. They cut their chutes away; they slalom down with pink neon in their wake. But the charcoalsuits can afford to land harder, and they’re close behind.

There’s a rosewood Martin at the bottom, plugged right into the building.

“The Justin can’t play guitar!” says the Justin, panicked. “He took pop-and-lock lessons instead!”

“Let go of pop, the Justin,” says Ptah. “Play your soul.

The Justin closes his eyes and hits high B. The suits scream. The pyramid sings the blues.

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