The Ungrateful Dead

a short story

honorable mention in the Univeristy of Santa Cruz Local Monsters Horror Writing Contest

Star was late to her meetup with Dr. Howard and Jessica but her keys weren't anywhere. Thorn looked up at her with a smug grin and they procured the ring of keys from behind their back.

"Hey! Give it back, you know I need to leave."

"Not without a kiss," their partner said and she sighed and kissed them on the cheek. "Okay have fun! When you come back we're playing more Project Diva." Thorn waved her out of their apartment. She smiled, shaking her head, and hummed one of the songs from the rhythm game as she walked to McHenry library and waited for the elevator.

"Oh hey Jessie!" She nodded to the woman approaching the elevator. She was carrying a single hand purse unlike Star's whole backpack and she looked kind of out of place and hazed among the hazed college students.

"Did you catch the 24 hour Grateful Dead marathon they were playing on the radio over the weekend?" Star asks as they take the elevator up to the third floor. "Of course! Wouldn't miss it for the world. Work was crazy busy around closing but I made up for it by staying up until the very end of the broadcast. Great music and a great high." She nods and they grin at each other. The elevator dings in the middle of their chatting and they head over to special collections where Dr. Howard is already sitting.

"Hey guys, over here."

"What's up Joseph, we were just talking about the radio show, I presume you caught it too?" Jessica pulls up the chair next to his.

"Yes, and there's much to talk about so- let's get started." Joseph looks between the two of them.

"This begins the meeting of the Santa Cruz DeadHead Club,'' Star announces quietly, putting her two hands on the table in unison.

"Here's the deal with me not having any classes to teach this quarter. I was able to listen to the whole 24 hour stream. And it was just as we suspected."

"Weird sound played backwards in between songs!" Star looked at Joseph excitedly "Mmm, not quite it was morse but still." "Well, give it here." Jessie said, he handed her a piece of notebook paper with his findings.

"So it was a series of numbers and stuff so at first I thought of a dewey decimal system but that didn't work."

"Well duh, because this god forsaken library uses the library of congress system."

"Precisely" Dr. Howard snapped in the air towards Star and grinned. "Except it wasn't in the stacks, thus why we meet in this corner of the world." He gestured around them.

"So there's something in special collections you think could really bring them back? All of them?" Jessie said, dropping her voice so the guy working the help desk wouldn't hear.

"That's what I believe. But-"

"Professor um, Howard?" A librarian comes out of the back room with a push cart and looks around.

Joseph waves his arm, "That's me"

"Here's all the newspaper clippings and books you requested sir. And here's a stand to put archival books on to read." They pushed the cart over and handed him a foam book stand. "Oh are these your undergrads?" The librarian asked, stroking their beard. Jessica and Star looked between each other, Dr. Howard, and the librarian.

"Yes, they are my ah, research assistants." Dr. Howard said carefully. The librarian nodded and went back to the desk, "Let me know if you need anything." they called, but Star was already engrossed in the materials.

"Where do we start?" She wondered aloud.

"Well, we need to split up-" Jessica started

"-and look for clues!" Dr. Howard butted in

"Yes, yes, Scooby Doo this and Giles that. What kind of clues Joseph?" Star rolled her eyes, it's not like this was their first investigation. "Anything about summoning." Jessie nodded at Joseph and they set to work. Over the course of the afternoon they slowly went through the stacks of books and magazines and newspaper clippings on the desk, carefully piling them into "vaguely helpful" and "unhelpful" stacks. Jessie and Joseph sometimes argued about which stack something should go in, Jessie insisting that things like "cult-following" and "fans devoted to the point of worshiping" were points towards putting her clippings in the "vaguely helpful" category. Star simply hummed along to her favorite Grateful Dead hits in her head, content to page through book after book. Dr. Howard had sighed after finishing his stack of magazines and Jessie was drawing closer to the last of her newspapers when Star suddenly looked up at them,

"Guys, I think I found it."

"Oh my god there it is." Jessie said with awe looking at the musty page. "Ya son of a gun you did it." Dr. Howard said, slapping her on the shoulder.

On the sepia paper of a dusty book who's jacket cover was in bad condition was a two page spread detailing everything they needed. A large diagram of a pentagram overtook most of the second page. Low and behold, from a dug up copy of Cults, Classics, and Chimeras was a ritual for bringing back to life all of the deceased members of a band of your choice. The Grateful Dead could finally all be together, just like this rag tag team had been hoping for the whole time.

"We need four items of musical power and history, and one item showing the connection of the spell makers to the band itself." Star murmured quietly as she scanned the page and summarized. "One piece of music from the band, one piece of their history, one piece of their instruments, and one piece of their followers. And then of course one thing from us."

"Well I have a bunch of their vinyls at home." Jessie said

"And I have a signed pick!" Dr. Howard gloated, the two women had heard this brag two dozen times before but it was finally going to prove useful.

"I know where we can get the other two. But it's going to have to be a covert operation." Star said with a whisper.


"You want me to do what?!" Thorn said with their jaw hanging open.

"Listen, Thorn, baby, it's not that big of a deal just, while your driver isn't looking, take their card. Then you can put on your crutches and braces and be on your way, alright? Nothing fancy."

"You want me to steal from my accessibility driver who is also the head of the museum. So that you can then steal from the museum?" Thorn said slowly. Star put on her best pouting face and Thorn broke out into a smile, "Honestly, you're so hot just for asking me. Yes I'll steal it. Can I kill him too?”

“What no!”

“Fine I'll just knock him on the head with my crutch, steal the keys from his secret false bottom glove compartment." They kissed her slowly. "He'll never see it coming."

After dinner they got situated to play Project Diva. Thorn was always better than her, but Star didn't mind. She always enjoyed playing Hatsune Miku and watching the blue pigtailed vocaloid girl animatedly sing songs on their TV as they played. It was always a secret dream of hers to go with Thorn to a Miku concert even if the flashing lights of the holographic performance would probably be too much for her and the amount of standing wouldn't work for them. She could still dream. "Okay do we have everything we need?" Jessie asked as they walked along the trail, "I can't wait."

"Yep I've got our flashlights and my pick, Star has the book and our keys in, and you- for whatever reason have really really good gloves." Joseph said. "Listen man, I do a lot of gardening and we're going to need them, trust me. Anyways I also have my lighter, the candles, the blunt we all smoked for a bit, and the vinyl." Jessie said with prowess. The trail lights flickered as they passed under each one, slowly approaching the library.

They walked up the stairs and looked up at the building. It was an eerie sight almost, too easy to see in the foggy night air. Abandoned lunch left on a table had been scattered by ravens. Star thought she saw a raccoon on the compost bin, only there were just five eyes that shone back at her.

"I guess we won't be needing our flashlights anyways," Dr. Howard said with a sigh and turned his flashlight off. He was right, the entirety of the library was fully lit. Every floor, every back shelf and stack, every office and classroom, was just as illuminated as it was during the day. Perhaps the sole difference was the grate rolled over the cafe indicating it to be closed. And there was of course the stark lack of people, though Star still thought she felt the presence of bodies moving about pouring over old volumes.

"Let's hope this works." She whispered and pulled out the set of keys, she tried a couple and they weren't working. Then she found one with a book and cross bones and with a click that sounded like a snapping of bone the door unlocked. Jessie pulled open the heavy door with ease and the three hopeful fans slipped in. They walked through the sensors that were supposed to detect un-checked out books but somehow the high pitched ringing in Star's ear sounded like a warning, a sign that someone was watching. It buzzed in her ears even after they had gone past. She did the book key but it didn't work. Then she found a skeleton key on the ring and tried again to open up the door to the museum. It creaked but opened just enough for them to slip in. Jessie handed her and Joseph gloves and they got to work. They started with the bronze statue of guitarist Jerry Garcia's ominously four fingered hand. Star had heard the story of how he'd lost his middle finger to a carpentry accident in these very same Santa Cruz mountains. She knew that doing this ritual here, in the heart of The Grateful Dead's fanbase, was perfectly fitting. Then they took out Jessie's glass cutting tools which she, for unspecified reasons, owned. She sliced a circle into one of the display cases and extracted a fan letter.

They went into the small screening room which was really more like a church for the Grateful Dead with three rows of pews. They placed the vinyl, blunt, pick, statue, and letter in a circle. Star took some salt and started drawing out a pentagram connecting the five items together while Jessie and Joseph placed and lit candles next to each item. Star got out the book and looked over the page once more. She recited in slow careful convictions the incantation on the page. The candles started to flicker of their own accord and the salt jittered slightly as she got through the first sentence. By the second sentence the TV on the wall in front of them was flickering on and off, then it started playing blips of noise and glitching out. The blips became longer distorted clips muddled by heavy static, they coagulated together until it became one unified voice. The screen grew brighter and brighter. The three stepped back as the light from the candles and the light from the TV shone at each other, becoming rays of light in bright yellow cyan and magenta. The cyan became the prominent color in the flashing beams and materializing above the pentagram was a goddess with a halo of arpeggios, tall black platform boots, a jet black vest and matching skirt, tattered tights, and long sharp nails. She brushed her hair behind her and two bright cyan pig tails rested on her back.

Hatsune Miku? It sort of looked like her, but more- godly. She turned around and tilted her head at the three bewildered Grateful Dead fans.

"Yoou wiish to raaise me? Yoou wish to seee your beloveeds play once more? Evenn those who take their own life, even those who die in peace. You wish to disturb their slumber to hear a cacophony of ghosts."

"Y-yes oh great Hastune Miku." Star said in a trembling voice, she looked to Jessie and Joseph to copy her.

"Yes we want to hear them all together," Joseph said,

"They'd be so happy all reuniting!" Jessie added, "Just like old times but even better."

"HOW DARE YOU." Miku boomed. She raised her hands and their long talons-with a sweep all the candles blew out in a gust. They could only see by the light from the TV static and Miku's hologram herself. "How dare you mock the jests of mortals. I am the only one who gets such a privilege. I was not born of flesh from a womb. I have no mother. I belong to no one. I am a tool of expression for all and thus I live through creativity itself. Not blood that can be cut from wrists or air from lungs that can be plagued or over run with cancer. I am the only musician blessed with immortality."

"What but that's not fair, we want them back just for like one concert what's so bad about that." Jessie complained

"To zest the newest generation of fans!" Joseph added. Miku just cackled and her smile grew wider and wider with rows and rows of perfectly triangular teeth.

"No." It was, surprisingly, Star who spoke out. "Miku is right."

"What- Star what are you saying?! I thought you were on our side?" Joseph gasped

"You just said, the newest generation of fans well, I don't know about you Jessie, but I am always the youngest person at anything Grateful Dead related. And well, I think the newest generation of fans just, aren't as into it. Do I like old music? Sure, it's great of course. But you" she pointed at Dr. Howard, "get all these superiority complexes in your head about how no one makes good music anymore. But really, it's not all big name bands that make good music anymore. It's the fandom of Miku themselves."

"I am glad you understand the vision of the future, Star Griffith, leave them and join me." Hatsune Miku said her arms reached out towards Star even as she stood three feet above the ground exactly where she had been.

"Alright Miku, whatever you need."

"Take these candles," The candles lit up again, but now with blazing blue flames, "And let your two companions consume their flames. Then they will wake up without a care in the world, all of these artifacts of musicians past will be returned, and you, my devoted, can have any wish you'd like." Star nodded solemnly and took two of the blue candles. Dr. Howard and Jessie had been frozen in place, crystalline pixels anchoring them to the floor and their gaping mouths silent. Star turned the candles in her hands upside down and their flames flared downwards as well, not licking at her hands but merely warming them slightly. She shoved one candle into Dr. Howard's mouth and the other into Jessie's. They both caught fire and when the cyan and magenta flames died they had vanished.

"Now, my devoted, what do you wish for?" Miku said with her elongated grin.

"Can you, let me and Thorn go to one of your concerts but without bright strobe lights they trigger my epilepsy too much. And with lots of chairs and couches so that Thorn can sit down?"

"Yes, in fact, it can be a performance for just the two of you. Candlelit even." Miku winked and then she was gone.

Star was left standing in the darkened chapel with two tickets in her hand. She smiled with too many rows of teeth.

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