Exit Strategy by Kathy Lanzarotti

Friday, February 10, 2023
Sami wakes up with a hangover and a big black dog that isn't hers; by Kathy Lanzarotti.

Image generated with OpenAI
The dog in her dream was a big black lab. Its thick tail thumped on the floor of her bedroom. "S-A-M-I," it said happily. A long pink tongue dangled over its chin for a moment before it spoke again, "S-A-M-I!"

He can talk! Sami thought. How cute!

The dog sat up on his hind legs, and expelled a hot miasma of rotten eggs.

"T-H-A-N-K - Y-O-U - S-A-M-I."

"What are you spelling?" The words jumbled together in her dream.

Sami tried to make sense of the letters that tumbled from the dog's mouth.

"Slow down!" she said. Her head was starting to hurt. "Why are you spelling?"

The dog stopped. Its brown eyes widened in realization.

"Oh," it said. "Old habits die hard I guess." Its voice was clipped. Sami detected a hint of a British accent.

She was delighted when her dream dog hopped up and kissed her cheek before continuing, "I'm Kevin. I'm a black Labrador and a very good boy, and I am so grateful to you for getting me out of that basement."

"Basement?" Sami didn't remember being in a basement, but this was a dream after all, so she went with it.

"I've been there for so long." Kevin continued. "And the people were not nice. Even though I am a very good boy, you told me and that's how I know."

She leaned in to give Kevin a big hug.

Then came that terrible moment just before Sami had completely woken up that she remembered the night before.

She groaned and pushed her face into her pillow to shield her eyes from the sunlight. What had she done? She remembered wine, and then Mark bought her a Tito's and tonic, and then she bought herself a bunch more. And then there was the weird girl with the piercings and the pink ponytails and... a board game?

She had a bottle of Fireball.

Sami's stomach lurched. She had drunk the Fireball. Lots of it.

The memory of this and the understanding of the pain that was to come had just settled when she heard it.


She slid her head sideways, eyes still shut and opened them. The black Labrador by the bed was deeply asleep, snoring like a freight train. It would have been cute except for the fact that Sami didn't have a dog.

She jumped up and flung a hand out toward her nightstand until she found her phone, pulled it over and texted Amber.

What happened last night? She wrote. Is somebody missing a dog?

She watched the little thought bubbles roll and thanked God that Amber was up.

Aww, look! You freed Kevin!

The dog sneezed and reorganized itself on her rug.

Sami started to text, but her hangover stabbed a stiletto into her temple. She pressed the phone icon.

Amber answered on the second ring, "Sam?"

"Amber! What the hell happened last night? There's a dog in my apartment!"

She sighed. "Yeah babe, that's your buddy Kevin."

Sami shut her eyes tight and tried to think but her memory could not be accessed without quite a bit of pain.

"Sam, you did like five shots of Fireball -"

Sami fell back onto her bed and shut her eyes. Kevin, having heard her voice, stretched his body and yawned for a long time before he jumped up next to her. She flapped a hand to keep him away, she hit ears, a nose, long legs until he finally shuffled off to the end of her bed, Christ, she thought as the fecund odor from her dream hit her nostrils. This dog stinks.

"Then you and Amaya got into a fight over a Ouija board of all things."

Amaya, Sami mouthed the name. "Pink pigtails?"

"That's the one," Amber said. "She got so pissed at you, because you kept 'engaging the spirit' and talking about Led Zeppelin."

"Led Zeppelin?" Sami said. "Like, the old-guy band?"

"Yeah," Amber giggled. "Boomer." Sami heard her swallow something, probably one of her acai smoothies. Healthy bitch.

She must have really been wasted. She still hadn't attempted to get up, which was probably a good idea.

Amber laughed. "You weren't taking 'The Board' seriously! That's what she called it." Amber slipped into her best California girl accent, "She told you not to mess with what you don't understand!"

Sami had a fuzzy memory of the pink girl pulling something away from her. A board. A Ouija board. Sami remembered telling her that she had to get it back, that she had to help, that she had to free the spirit, because he was trapped. It had seemed really important at the time.

Amber was still talking, "You were running around saying 'we have to free Kevin!' and Amaya was chasing you and screaming that you had to say goodbye, that the spirit was tricking you."

"Where'd I get the dog?" Sami asked.

"He was outside of the bar, he wouldn't leave you alone, so you told him he was a very good boy and you were taking him home and naming him Kevin." She was openly laughing now. "Bitch, you stole someone's dog." Sami heard the sound of liquid sucked through a straw.

It certainly looked that way. She stared at its large rear as it slept on the end of her bed.

She sank back onto her mattress. Great. Now she was going to have to bring the dog back. Was the Humane society even open on Sundays? Oh God, what if she was arrested for dognapping? She couldn't go to jail. She had classes tomorrow! Not to mention a seventh circle of hell level hangover.

She sighed. "So why Led Zeppelin?" "Oh, you explained," Amber stretched out the last word. "In great detail. Seems there's some album of theirs with a symbol on it, or symbols?" She paused. "I don't know because I'm not a thousand years old, but I guess one of them is the symbol of a demon that lives in the Ouija board or something."

Sami nodded and swallowed; her mouth tasted foul and she could smell her own breath. She needed water. The album Amber was talking about was in her dad's vinyl collection, and it was one of his favorites. She'd seen the sleeve with the creepy symbols on top of the turntable in his study.

"Is that true? Is it like a Ouija demon?" Dad always told her that they didn't really mean anything, they just represented the band members. Then again, it wouldn't be the first time he had been wrong about something.

"Is it true?" Amber scolded. "Come on!" She sighed. "You said that the Ouija board kept spelling out that symbol, and Amaya was Fuh-reeking out, and you kept saying," her voice pitched higher, "'We have to free Kevin, he's a Led Zeppelin fan.' And Amaya was just like, 'YOUHAVETOSAYGOODBYE!'" her voice went hoarse and breathy.

Sami closed her eyes, God it smelled bad. She opened them. "Ugh!" she told Amber. "I have to go. I think this dog is farting and it smells like old mayonnaise." She covered her face with her pillow again and lifted it to fit her phone. "Will you come with me later? I think we should just take him to the Humane society."

"Whatever, just text me when you're on the way," Amber said. "See ya, Babes."

Sami pressed the end button and breathed into her pillow.

"All right, Kevin," she said as she pulled the pillow from her face.

The dog raised its head. Kevin was a lot more angular than she had remembered and much larger. His legs rose long and muscular on enormous silvery paws. His black ears, now fringed white, pricked as he turned and regarded her with piercing yellow eyes and a long lupine nose.

He opened his mouth and Sami saw black gums, a long pink tongue and sharp white incisors. A guttural voice rasped, "She was right, you know." He stepped forward, stood over her body and lowered his snout to her face. A string of foul-smelling saliva dropped onto Sami's exposed throat.

"It is extremely important that you say goodbye."


  1. Creepy, unnerving and captivating. Bravo. Your story gave me the creeps, and I refuse to believe that dogs have a single evil bone in their body despite this scary twist ending. I like your way of describing things: "seventh circle of hell hangover," "piercing yellow eyes," "black gums, a long pink tongue," "a string of foul-smelling saliva." And the acai smoothie joke made me laugh. Thanks for writing this story.

  2. Charlotte Lanzarotti’s “Exit Strategy” was an unexpected delight! It encompasses three elements with which I have inordinate experience, if not always affection: black labs, Led Zeppelin, and hangovers. I must take exception, Charlotte, to your depiction of Led Zeppelin as an “old guys” band (!!). But, given that the album referenced, Led Zeppelin IV, known unofficially as “Runes,” is *more than 50 years old*, I guess that you have a point. A talking dog! Who hasn’t had one of those in the wake of a night of juicing? I thought the after-bar odor, of both dog and woman was apropos as well. I really had to smile, all through reading Exit Strategy. Thanks for a happier day, Charlotte.

  3. Fun read--excellent writing, good characterizations. Love the dog--if it IS a dog...


  4. Offf-kilter and well-written. The conversation between Amber and Sami seemed so natural I almost felt guilty for eavesdropping. But I’m glad I did! Excellent play between the title and last line.
    -David Henson

  5. I enjoy how you upended a classic trope.
    Instead of a young woman awakening to an unknown man in her bed after a night of blackout hard drinking, she awakens to an unknown *dog* in her bed.
    Very inventive!
    (Tonally it was mostly comedic but then shifted to horror at the end, which I found a bit jarring. Also, I, like many, am a dog lover, so that ending is difficult to read for us.)

  6. A well written story, Kathy. I have never worked in the horror genre, but when I read them, I always think that the demon/devil/animal is part of the protagonist's hidden self. I was therefore not perturbed when the dog become threatening... I also love dogs.

  7. I didn't know Ouija boards had occult symbols on them, anyway nice creepy touch. Loved the dog, even if a malevolent spirit is trapped inside of him, lol.