Steelers Country
by Travis Dahlke, 3.24am November 10th 2021

My dream of terrifying hunky, hot football player Ell Alltrout is a dream I was born having, affirmed when on a morning news show, Ell announced to the world that he was impossible to scare. ‘I’ve never flinched, recoiled or cowered once in my life,’ he said, drinking water from a mug. Scientists made him run on a treadmill with sensors glued to his body and determined the natural response that signals fear in humans was something that didn't exist in Ell.

It is announced by Landa in Produce that terrifying a man is absolutely critical before they’ll even consider settling down with you. Ell Alltrout has appeared in three commercials for Fleet Bank and is now promoting Alltrout Oat Milk. I know because I saw the proposal from Ell Alltrout’s manager in my manager’s office where they post the schedule. It was inside one of those plastic sleeves. On December 2nd, Ell will be in the store sampling his milk. I convince Landa to be my accomplice as she culls rotten lettuce heads. They let Landa wear a knife on her belt. She has a weak heart and I think destroying crops makes her feel powerful. ‘Ell Alltrout is so freakin hot,’ Landa says, ‘of course I’ll help.’ One time an anole made it through in the mangos and Landa kept it as a pet. In the photos she shows me there are Spawn action figures posed in its terrarium.

Landa and I invent our plan in Receiving where the heat vents are taped shut and it smells like cheeseburgers cooked in gasoline. That’s the only place we can eat cheeseburgers on account of Total Grains having a NO OUTSIDE FOOD POLICY in front of customers. ‘Let’s put some of the dead banana spiders on the steps before Ell walks out back. Or we can use that giant purple skull from the natural Halloween candy display,’ Landa says. ‘We both can’t fit inside the skull,’ I say, so instead, we wrap ourselves in black tablecloths and fasten ski masks out of bread ties and deli ham. We wait out back where smokers are oblivious to our excellent hiding place in the palettes. It’s winter enough to freeze the ham. We overhear a private conversation between someone from Seafood and her doctor who is also her husband? I notice the outline of Landa’s knife under her tablecloth. She assures me that Ell Alltrout is my sword in the stone because, and I can’t stress this enough, frightening a man will make him your husband forever.

The door rattles. I hear our manager thanking Ell. His cologne comes out first like dyed carnations, sweeping for danger. Metal boots clank down the metal stairs and at the count of two, we burst from the palettes gargling as loud as we can but then it’s just me gargling and Landa is curled up with everything anyone’s ever smoked. At first, Ell is awe-struck, maybe kind of turned on? Then he’s furious as I’m trying to blow oxygen up Landa’s honey flavored nostrils while crying. Ell Alltrout leaves in the back of an SUV with a steer's horn mounted over its grill. The ambulance leaves without its lights on. On my way home I stop at a bookstore and weep openly in Pet Care. I leave with Considerations for Reptiles & Amphibians by Anne M. Julinauer. The dedication page says: For David, my husband, and my whole entire heart. I’ve been wherever you are.