Jim sat alone at a far corner table, sipping black coffee and checking the weather on his phone.

The truck stop was nearly deserted in the pre-dawn hours; a gray-haired old-timer manned the coffee shop counter and the occasional disheveled and bleary-eyed trucker would shamble in to grab a coffee and a greasy breakfast, but other than that it was empty.

Jim drained the cup and considered going back for a second but dismissed the idea. He had a pickup in Leamington and then a twelve-hundred kilometer run up the Trans-Canada to Hearst, and he didn’t want to stop at every washroom along the way.

The clock above the coffee counter showed seven-fifteen. Almost light enough to do the morning inspection of his rig. He pushed the chair back and stood, pulled on his heavy jacket to ward off the mid-autumn chill, grabbed the empty paper cup and shuffled towards the exit.

And that’s when he saw a woman step into the truck stop and pause just inside the entrance. Mid-thirties, maybe. Good-looking in the kind of way that doesn’t draw attention to itself – brown hair tied back in a ponytail, light ski jacket unzipped over a loose-fitting white sweater, faded blue jeans, sneakers. She wasn’t a trucker; there weren’t many women in the business and in any case she didn’t look the type. She looked to be a traveler, though, judging by the well-worn backpack slung over her left shoulder.

She scanned the room and her eyes met his. He thought he saw a flicker of interest – of recognition – in her expression, but he dismissed it as wishful thinking. In the next life, hopefully. Certainly there were no women for him in the present one.

He paused and waited for her to move away from the entrance. It was better that he not get too close to her. No point inviting calamity, especially so early in the morning. After a moment she wandered over to the coffee counter and he slipped out of the building while she ordered.

It was damp, blustery and cold outside. Winter was coming. Canadian winter. Six months of poor driving conditions, unpredictable weather, slow traffic and long, icy nights. He wrapped his jacket tighter around his wiry frame and muttered curses under his breath. Forty-five years old and still hauling his ass from one end of the country to the other? It was no life. He wondered again why he even bothered.

He got to his rig, unlocked it, pulled himself up into the cab and hit the ‘test mode’ switch on the console, then dropped back down to the pavement and started a slow circle check of the vehicle. Lights. Flashers. Tires. Fluids. Belts and hoses. Finally he returned to the relative warmth of the cab and checked the dials on the console. Gas, charge rate, oil, coolant, water. Every day for the past twenty-seven years, the same routine. He could have done it in his sleep.

He stepped behind the seat to his bunk and checked that everything was secured, garbage removed, cupboards closed, bed made, desk retracted and the swivel arms that held his television and laptop were folded out of the way.

Ready to go.

Jim had settled into his seat when he heard a knock on the driver door. A quick check of the mirror revealed it to be the woman from the coffee stop. He froze. What reason would she have to come looking for him? Had he left something behind? He checked. Wallet…keys…phone, all accounted for. He sat, trying to figure what to do, but the coffee hadn’t soaked into him yet and his thoughts were fuzzy. He couldn’t open the door, that was for sure. He didn’t mix well with women. Or to be more accurate, he mixed TOO well with women. Better for both of them if he kept the door closed.

Finally he lowered the window, just enough to speak through it.

“Good morning,” he said, his tone gruff.

“I’m Lisa. Could I get a lift?” Bold. Direct, but she had a sweet enough voice – very easy on the ears.

It seemed odd, her being a hitchhiker. She’d have had to hitch her way to the truck stop…but at seven-fifteen in the morning? Who was picking up hitchhikers in the dark? What woman would thumb a ride at night? Jim cursed his luck – he really should have had that second cup of coffee to make the thinking a bit easier.

“Not possible. My boss doesn’t allow it. Sorry.” It was a convenient enough excuse.

“Aw, come on. He won’t know, and I can be very good company,” she said, winking on the word ‘very’.

It had been a few years since he’d had an offer like that; more than a few, actually. He felt the first stirring of temptation, the awakening of urges he’d spent his life damping down.

“Still no. Sorry about that.” He raised the window, then did his seat beat. When he checked the mirror again, she was gone.

Or so he thought, until the passenger door opened and the woman climbed awkwardly into the cab.

This was bad – very bad. A woman should not be so close to him. He swiveled the seat to face her.

“Now, look, miss. I thought I was pretty clear…” he trailed off.

She held a gun. The barrel was pointed at his face.

“Drive,” she said, her voice hard. Mean. Her eyes peered into his and didn’t flinch.

“Okay…you want the truck? All yours. I’ll just step out,” he said. It was insured, after all. No reason to die – not over such a silly thing anyway.

“Drive, or I’ll kill you right here.”

“There are cameras all over the place…inside the coffee stop, too. They’d find you quick,” he countered. Why was he arguing? Was he trying to get shot? Had his death wish become so pronounced?

“Drive.” She pointed the gun lower, at his abdomen. The idea of a bullet tearing through his guts was somehow more daunting than the thought of being shot in the face. A bullet in the stomach was a slow, painful way to die.

He turned back to the wheel and put the truck in gear, then navigated to the on-ramp and accelerated onto the highway. He was almost up to speed when he heard a snicking sound and felt cold metal around his right wrist. Startled, he tried to pull back but found his wrist handcuffed to the wheel. He drove in silence for a few minutes before he dared to speak up.

“This won’t work if I need to reach the gear stick.” The truck had an automatic transmission, but he hoped she wouldn’t know that.

“Just drive.”

“Where are we going?”

“Just fucking drive!”

Another few minutes passed in silence as he debated using The Curse. He hadn’t used it in thirty years and didn’t want to start it up again now. It wasn’t right, that sort of power. It brought nothing but trouble. It ruined lives, his most of all. Definitely a last resort. He glanced at her sidelong and tried again.

“Whatever problems you’ve got, this isn’t the right fix. If you tell me what you need, maybe…”

“Jesus, you don’t stop, do you?” she said with an eye-roll and a humorless smile.

He sighed. Time for The Curse.

“Undo the handcuffs,” he said in a soft but firm voice.

“Shut up and drive.”

Her response set him back. Well…it had been a long time since he’d used his power. Easy to see how it could be a little rusty. He cleared his throat and tried again, a little louder.

“Undo the handcuffs.”

“It won’t work,” she said flatly.


“I won’t obey you. Your powers of control won’t work.”

“You know about The Curse?” he asked in an awestruck tone. Dozens of questions bubbled to the surface all at once and he couldn’t decide in what order to ask them.

She barked out a derisive laugh. “Is that what you call it?”

“Are you able to do it too? Magic, I mean?” Despite the gun in her hand, Jim felt only a desperate curiosity. This might be the chance to get answers to questions that had haunted him his whole miserable life. The threat of being shot seemed insignificant by comparison.

He could feel her gaze on him and he glanced sideways to find her wearing an expression that seemed both puzzled and irritated.

“It’s not magic. Just drive the fucking truck, okay?”

“No…wait…this is amazing! I didn’t know there was a way to block the magic. You have to tell me how!”

“It’s not magic!” There was more exasperation than anger in her voice, but plenty of both.

“Then what is it?”

“Shut up and…”

“No!” he shouted. “I’ve lived with this goddamn thing for as long as I can remember. It’s ruined me. Now tell me what it is!”

There was silence in the cab. He wanted to glare at her but the road vied for his attention.

She let out a loud, exaggerated sigh.

“Fine. I guess there’s no harm in it. It’s not magic. It’s biological, probably part of your body chemistry. Our best guess is that your body produces a chemical that acts on the brain somehow.”

“Why does it only work on women?”

“I don’t know. Something to do with hormones, maybe. It’s mostly a theory.”

“How are you blocking it?”

“Lanzapine…an anti-psychotic drug. Acts on the brain to counter your chemicals.”

“If I took some, would it block my power?” He didn’t try to conceal the eagerness in his voice.

“No. There’s only one way to shut your power down.”



“Oh,” he said. So close, yet so far. “How long does it last – Lanzapine?”

She was silent for a moment, and her tone was muted when she responded.

“Long enough. Take the next exit.”

“Why? What’s-” suddenly he jumped onto the brakes, causing the rig to jerk forward with the sudden deceleration and slamming Lisa against the dash. A curve in the road had straightened to reveal a long line of red brake lights that stretched down the road into the distance. Blue and red flashing lights far off ahead meant the delay would be a lengthy one. All part of life on the road.

“Fuck! Are you trying to get shot?” Lisa said, reclaiming her seat.

“Accident,” he said with a nod out the windshield.

She glanced out at the traffic jam, then her gaze flickered to the illuminated clock on the console.

“Fuck,” she repeated.


He was forced to play Top 40 on the satellite radio. Well, not forced, exactly, but when a visibly irritated woman with a gun wanted to hear today’s hits, that’s what got played.

For an early-morning accident on a remote stretch of the 401, it was a doozy. All lanes blocked. Eight fire trucks, four ambulances, and more cop cars than he could count. Jim briefly considered trying to get the attention of the police, but decided to play it cool for the time being. He didn’t want a bullet in the abdomen, for one thing, but more than that, he needed Lisa. She had the information he’d been looking for all his adult life.

He tried several times to kick-start the conversation but the delay made her even more unfriendly and reticent than before. The only concession he could wring from her was to get her to open a bottle of water and pass it to him. As the hours crawled by, the two of them sat quietly and sipped water as the flavours of the month shrieked and wailed on the radio.

Lisa passed the time pecking at the touch screen of her phone. The gun rested in her lap, but with his right wrist cuffed to the wheel, Jim couldn’t have made a grab for it even if he’d wanted to.

Finally the accident was cleared away and traffic slowly returned to normal. He took the next exit as she indicated and soon found himself driving down an isolated, rural country road. The sun was bright and halfway to its zenith in the sky when she finally spoke.

“Here. Pull to the side,” she said, her voice quiet.

He signaled and eased the rig onto the soft shoulder. All around were farmers’ fields – not a house to be seen. Lisa pulled the gear into ‘park’.

Jim got a very bad feeling. He cast about for something to say, but nothing came to him – the situation was surreal, like a dream, and it was hard to think clearly. He cursed himself for skipping that second cup of coffee.

“I’m sorry,” she said in the same soft tone. “You seem different than the others. Maybe you are different. But I can’t take that chance. Close your eyes – it’ll be painless.”

She was going to kill him! Should he beg? Plead for his life? Face it stoically?

He closed his eyes. He’d thought of ending it himself so many times over the years, despairing of ever being free of The Curse. Ironic that his death should come so soon after new hope presented itself.

He felt the cool metal of the gun against his right temple.

“Just like this? In broad daylight? They’ll catch you. You can’t escape on foot,” he said.

“Not your problem.” Her voice was calm. Serious.

“Stop. Don’t do this,” he said in a voice that was little more than a whisper. A final, feeble attempt to sway her.

The minutes ticked by in perfect silence. He could hear his breathing and hers, and his heart pulsing in his chest. His hands still clutched the wheel, white-knuckled.


A stunned whisper from her caused him to open his eyes.

She sat in the passenger seat, facing him. She looked frozen in place, her body rigid and unmoving. Both arms were extended, her right hand holding the gun, index finger curled around the trigger, her left hand cupped under her right to support it. The look in her wide brown eyes slowly changed from disbelief to horror.

Jim quickly ducked his head away from the barrel of the gun, but she didn’t flinch, holding her position. It took him only a moment to understand.

The Curse.

He’d told her to stop, so she’d stopped. As comprehension dawned in his eyes, the dread in Lisa’s deepened. He breathed a relieved sigh.

“Don’t shoot. Put the safety on, lower the gun, and put it away,” he said in a steady voice. She did exactly as he directed, stowing the gun in a side pocket of her backpack.

“Good. Now sit back in your seat and remain still.”

She complied.

He took several minutes to compose himself. For all the times he’d lamented the Curse, it had sure come in handy just this once. He went to put the rig in gear, only to be stopped by the handcuffs.

“Oh – undo the handcuffs then return to your seated position,” he said. She did so.

“Tell me if you arranged for someone to pick you up after I was dead.”

“I was supposed to meet someone here.”

“Looks like they’re late.”

“We’re the ones who are late. My ride went to grab some breakfast. He’ll be here in a few minutes.”

“Well I’m not sticking around,” he said, putting the rig in gear and winding his way back to the highway. He radioed ahead to confirm his load was still in Leamington despite the lengthy delay. It was still there, waiting for him. The day was beginning to look like it would be an interesting one for a change.


Two hours later he was loaded up and dragging his freight along the 401 toward Toronto. Lisa had remained in her seat, still and silent. Jim hadn’t said much, either – preoccupied by the events of the morning and the feelings brought to the surface by his use of The Curse after so many years. The long-dormant yet familiar internal struggle between what he could do and what he ought to do. The ability to force women to do his bidding was a terrible kind of power – the kind a man could lose himself in.

But with sun beaming down through a flawless blue sky, the familiar road under him and Steppenwolf blaring over the radio, he began to loosen up.

“So why do you want to kill me?” He asked, figuring it was as good a place as any to start the conversation.

She sat silently, staring into the distance.

He smiled ruefully – he hadn’t used The Curse in so long he’d forgotten some of the nuances. He corrected himself.

“Tell me why you want to kill me.” Direct commands worked, questions didn’t.

“To stop you from using your power to prey on women,” she replied in a voice steeped in bitterness.

“But I don’t prey on women. Never have.”

She didn’t respond, just stared resolutely forward.

He sighed, resigned to the necessity of dragging a conversation out of her sentence by sentence. It wasn’t a very nice thing to do, but seeing as she’d tried to kill him he felt entitled to get his questions answered at the very least.

“Tell me why you think I would prey on women.”

“You’re a man. You have the power to compel women to do anything – everything – you want. Doesn’t take a fucking genius to imagine how that’s going to play out.”

“That’s unfair.” He didn’t expect a response to his non-command but she surprised him.

“Unfair? I’ve tracked down eight men like you. Eight men with your power. All of them – every single one – enslaved and exploited women. One was a pimp. Two of them owned strip clubs where the ‘talent’ worked for free. One bastard was marrying rich women, taking their assets, then divorcing them.” There was no hiding the outrage in her voice.

“But just because…”

“One guy worked in Hollywood as an agent who took one-hundred percent commission from his stable of actresses. One guy would fuck a different married woman every night, bareback. Why? Just because he could. Shall I tell you about the sick fucker who left a bunch of pregnant teenagers in his wake?”

“That’s not me! I’ve never done anything like that!”

“Just because you haven’t, doesn’t mean you won’t. And the stakes are too high to risk leaving it to chance. Power corrupts,” she said, then lapsed into a fuming silence.

Jim could feel her anger and understood it, even if it was unfairly directed at him.

“So you’ve killed eight people?”

“With a smile,” she said, her voice a knife edge.

“I was going to be number nine?”

“You will be number nine. Whatever you do to me, there are others to finish the job.”

Jim was quiet for a while after that as he considered what he’d learned and tried to determine the best way forward. He was torn; affronted to be lumped in with the human dregs that Lisa had described but at the same time conceding that her better-dead-than-sorry approach had a clean, cold logic to it. And how else to deal with those men? Criminal prosecution? The women involved would be too enthralled to press charges or testify. And if death was the only way to disable The Curse…well, that didn’t leave a whole lot of options.

The silence stretched for an hour before growing too oppressive for Jim’s liking.

“Tell me how you learned about The Curse,” he said.

“I fell victim to a man named Luther, who had the same power as you.”

“What do you mean ‘fell victim’? What happened?”

There was no response and he was about to re-phrase it as a command when she spoke.

“Please don’t make me tell you that.” It was a whisper…a plea.

He nodded and abandoned the question but wasn’t ready for another lengthy silence.

“How did you find me, anyway? How did you know I was Cursed?”

“Like I would tell you,” she snapped defiantly.

He chuckled, amused by her tenacious resistance. “Answer every question I ask, fully and truthfully.”

“Fuck! Fine. You were part of a clinical vaccine trial when you were a baby. An error was made and you were given the wrong formulation. Spoiled or tainted or something, who knows? All the boys who received the bad juice grew up to be ‘Cursed’ as you would say.”

“How on earth did you figure that out?”

“Twelve years of tireless, obsessive detective work. I rooted out two other Cursed men, then started looking for any common thread that tied them to Luther. Finding the stuff about the vaccine was a fluke – we stumbled on it by accident.”

“So how many others have The Curse?”

“After you’re gone? Thirteen.”

He drove in silence as he digested her answers.

“Tell me why the Lanzapine didn’t work for you this morning. I thought it was supposed to protect you.”

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” she said. “The dose I took is usually good for six hours but today it lasted less than three. Maybe the confined space in here meant a higher concentration of your biochemicals. Or maybe the fact that you obviously haven’t showered in a couple of days produced a stronger chemical dose.”