"I'm no Mary Poppins," Amy Slone says.
If Poppins was obsessive-compulsive about a holiday, it would be Christmas. Slone hates Christmas. She has self-diagnosed OHD — Obsessive Halloween Disorder. Months before Halloween, she begins turning her Gulfport home — front to back, top to bottom — into a gore-dripping, corpse-infested, creepy-clown-haunted house.
This year the theme is post-nuclear apocalypse clown terror. She, her son and all their friends built a haunted maze in the back yard early in the year and left it to weather through the Florida summer to get the effect just right.
"I like to have a few months in the year when I can let my brain go to dark places," Slone says. "It's the season when I can go as left of center as I want. I can be odd and people don't want to keep their children away from me."
She loves children … and hates being scared. She never watches horror movies or goes into other haunted houses. She started donating all the proceeds from her haunted house to the Pinellas Park Fire Explorers after her son, now 19, began participating in the program.
She is more like Mary Poppins than she wants to admit.
The whole Halloween obsession started out as a Charlie Brown haunted house in the driveway for her son 10 years ago. Her house always has been the place where all the friends hang out. As her son got older, the desire to be the cool mom got harder to fulfill. She learned to play World of Warcraft so she could play video games with the gang. The haunted house became edgy, cool and something teenage boys would do.
What is it about haunted houses? Why do people want to be scared, and why doesn't Slone?
"You go in, but you know it's going to be okay. You know you're going to come out all right. It's okay that you don't know what's around that dark corner," she says.
Slone has had plenty of real scares. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years ago. Last year her sister committed suicide and her best friend died from ovarian cancer. Slone had the formula for Kevlar tattooed on one of her forearms and decided to be bulletproof.
"Even in the scariest haunted house, you have to have those moments to catch your breath," she says. "Last year we did a bubble room, with bubbles up to everyone's chin. That's like when my son graduated high school, then got accepted into the fire academy. It's like, I can breath again. This is good. This is okay."
Because you never know what's around the next corner.