One dark and not-so-stormy night under a waning crescent moon, the streets of Park Slope were quiet. Decorated brownstones lined Sixth Avenue like a Halloween expo, and tucked away on the corner of Fourth Street stood a puppet store full of horror fans. They sat in costumes, popped open a few beers and tried to ignore the lifeless puppet eyes staring at them from the walls as they waited for the brain behind their childhood nightmares, R.L. Stine.
On Saturday, October 26th, the local horror zine you are not alone hosted a Halloweekend live horror reading headlined by the Goosebumps author. At the skin-crawling Puppetworks in Park Slope, ten readers took the small stage normally reserved for children’s shows and read aloud their spooky stories to a crowd of about 100.
Founded in 1980, Puppetworks is an old, worn-out theater and one of those places that children find magical but adults find horrifying. Like a page out of “Night of the Living Dummy,” bedraggled marionettes overlooked the showroom and smoke spurted out from the small stage as reader after reader took their turn telling scary stories. Taylor Gonzalez and his brother Alex, who created you are not alone, both read at the event, giving audience members a spine-chilling sample of their horror zine.
The highlight of the night was when R.L. Stine slowly walked up to the stage, hands in his pockets. The crowd clapped and shouted as the author who caused many a sleepless night took his place at the front of the theater. Sitting criss-cross applesauce as we did when we were kids, the audience hung on every word as Stine recounted a “true ghost story” from his childhood, a trick-or-treating escapade he had with his brother one Halloween night when they were kids.
After the event ended, fans rubbed out their goosebumps and lined up to meet the man whose stories forced them to sleep with a nightlight. He patiently talked with each one, cracking jokes and posing for pictures. Taylor was ecstatic about Stine’s participation and told Bedford + Bowery that the writer’s appearance is what drew people to the reading. “As soon as someone wrote about R.L. Stine being there it sold out overnight,” Taylor said. “I had to shut it down.” It was a big event for what is still a small, growing zine.
You are not alone was created by the Gonzalez brothers in 2018 as a Halloween prank. Taylor and Alex anonymously mailed the first ever issue to 100 of their closest friends. Hoping to frighten them, they listed the return address as what in hindsight was a super creepy summer camp they frequented as kids in Tampa, Florida.
Alex is a professional writer, and recently published a book titled Land Shark. But even though Taylor has always loved writing and studied journalism at the University of Florida, writing is just a hobby for him. He said he really enjoys creating you are not alone because it gives him a hard deadline, and forces him to write the micro-horror stories he loves. Taylor said it’s all about asking himself, “How much damage can you do in the least amount of words?”
After the inaugural issue, it took the brothers nearly a year to put another one together, but in August, they released the second installment. With two issues out and a third coming soon, they want to use you are not alone and these readings to build a horror community and take full advantage of today’s horror renaissance.
The horror zine is off to a good start after getting R.L. Stine to headline their spooky spectacle, but to build its bone-chilling brand Taylor said they want to keep having shows and spread the word. “That’s what Alex and I want,” Taylor said. “We want to build something that people enjoy.” The readings play a huge part in growing that community, and also give writers an outlet to test their power to petrify. “I think any time that authors get a chance to stand up and read their stuff, it’s a great thing,” Stine said. “It’s a scary time, so it’s a great time for scary stories.”