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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

The log became a crocohippolion and its bone-snacking jaws vanished Stevie’s reed.

“Double trouble!” gasped Stevie. “I hope you’re ready for this, boy!” The Justin sank his toes into river mud, took up gedan and met its eyes.

My name is Amemet, they said, and I was never worshipped. Once I ate the hearts of men and gods, until the river of their fear ran dry.

Do you know how one acquires a taste for souls? Do you see how long I have starved, undying?

Do you see that I am hungry?

The Justin threw down his blade and ran.

The Justin

One thing to remember about any given swampy river: there are crocodiles.

Except in the afterlife there weren’t, which made sense: their chief function (in human perception) was largely abrogated. Denied symbiosis, the white plovers wheeled and dove and annoyed the Justin, who was trying to spar.

“Concentrate,” hissed Stevie, reed low and steady.

“I don’t want bird poopy on my soul!” the Justin protested.

“Just concentrate on your time signature. Soon enough you’ll have to deal with more than birds!”

Not far down the river, ready to prove them right, the crocohippolion lurked; and the plovers went nowhere near her.

The Justin

“If anybody was going to teach me guitartistry in the afterlife,” grunted the Justin, swinging wildly, “I’d’ve expected–”

“Ol’ RJ’s off in his own hell,” chuckled Stevie, and swatted the blade aside. “Very special. Very private.”

“Whereas you?”

“Understand about floods,” murmured Stevie. He glanced at the Nile for a moment.

“How do you always know what I’m about to do?” said the Justin, finding himself on his back in the mud.

“We’re alike. Get right down to it, we’re white boys. The blues ain’t ours by right.”

The Justin frowned. “I’m nobody’s thief.”

“Done right,” shrugged Stevie, “theft is art.”

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.

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