Geoff Nelder lives in Manchester, England with his physicist wife, and cycles rural lanes for thinking time. He is a former teacher, now an editor, writer and fiction competition judge.

His novels include historical fantasies Vengeance Island, Scifi: Alien Exit, and The ARIA trilogy. He has published the vegan scifi Flying Crooked series with Suppose We that was released in 2019, which was followed by Falling Up. Kepler’s Son expected is out late by 2021.

He also wrote the thrillers Escaping Reality and Hot Air. He has a collection titled Incremental.

His website is HERE

by Geoff Nelder


Kareena’s eyes closed for a few moments while the sore-eye spray did its work. Some found its way into her mouth. Salty. Two hours solid translating, staring at her admittedly large screens had socked her stamina for the afternoon. If only they made a spray for her exhausted brain too. Actually, the negative ions jetting out of her shower would be refreshing or even sitting near a waterfall as Alan was probably doing on his half-week off from barrister pupillage training.

Just one more passage and she’d wrap it up. She smiled at her Indian, red quartz talisman, shaped like an eye, and held out a finger to stroke it. If only Google translate worked with her beloved Odia language, but no. Just as well, or she’d have to find another job.

With calmer eyes, she read then smiled at the swirls and squiggles of the ancient Indian script. Not at the meaning of the words, an epic Mahabharata saga involving a struggle between princely cousins but, at what looked like from a distance, a page of ampersands. A beautiful stream rippling across her left screen.  On the right screen sat the dull, familiar TNR plodding along as she translated ancient Odia to modern English, losing art and with it her soul.

Kareena harrumphed when two of the Odia symbols looked like a bicycle. It was all she needed to distract her into logging onto Alan’s helmet cam. Not live but it uploaded every few minutes to his phone then to the cloud when he reached a wifi hotspot: today he’d ride in the hills and woods of the New Forest.

When he first used a helmet cam, she half-expected to see other women—maybe too close. Their strained marriage. But the issues came from his callousness rather than infidelity. She wanted out but so far he refused, all the while threatening to reveal her lie.

She paused near the start to brew a pot of Assam tea. Her mother had worked in the plantations, back permanently bent and fingers gnarled. Ironically, her father helped to build the mechanised pickers that put her mum out of work. Every sip retold their story.

A deadline loomed, so she couldn’t accompany Alan this time. A mixed blessing for Kareena though. Alan had become indifferent to her feelings. Sometimes, downright horrible as when he threw away a wedding invitation to her from his sister because he didn’t want to go. She got her own back by letting down his tires ten miles from home last Saturday. Not clever, both of them bitter.

She could use…no, she shouldn’t. She was able to split their semi-detached marriage using her mostly latent Shaman gifts but there were consequences. Her mother called them a balance. Use of powers costs. In her case, her hair fell out, the result of the wearing a wig…not to be repeated lightly.

It didn’t seem to matter if she accidentally wished ill on someone or for a convenient outcome. Anyway, what’s her bed-warmer been doing? She usually enjoyed watching the hedges, trees and moors fly by as if she was there. There they go: tall hedges this run; shiny road, puddles reflecting clouds. It was all so vivid that she smelled the rain.

Whoa, too fast. Her legs twitched as if eager to be there but her hands clenched as if on the brakes. A blind bend rushed towards the bike. “Brake, you idiot,” she screamed at the unhearing screen.

He would have heard anyway, or felt it in his head even over two-hundred miles but she realized the footage was an hour old. Even so…

Round the corner he’d leant over at an estimated 40 degrees. He kept going. Still too fast. Let nothing be—No! A horse. Wide brown eyes, flared nostrils, spittle, rearing. Somehow, Alan skidded under the hooves and into a ditch. The screen filled with beech hedge. A kaleidoscope of green leaves, twigs, shiny spokes, patches of blue sky before the image settled on the dappled rear of the horse galloping back the way it’d come.

No rider. Was it a runaway? Kareena couldn’t see enough to tell if there was a saddle.

Now what was Alan looking at? His bike. Of course.

Bright yellow mitts on his hands. Birthday present last month, but he was getting oil on them as he lifted his eight-thousand pounds worth of Carbon Slayer mountain bike out of the ditch and re-seated the chain. Maybe he was going to chase after the horse, now out of sight. But no. He’d placed the bike flat on the ground. Why? Suppose another idiot hurled around the bend—ah, the view aimed upwards and around.

Her head spun with dizziness. Good, the rotating had stopped. What the hell? Someone’s rear, wearing beige jodhpurs and black riding boots waved into view. Up in a tree. Yellow hi-vis vest, face out of sight but the long red ponytail probably indicated a woman. One arm was waving while the other clung onto a branch. Wait. A red spike stuck out of her back. The view changed to the tarmac.

God no.

She tasted bile in her mouth and swallowed a mouthful of tea to keep it down.

What was he doing? Pity he’d not activated sound on his cam. Ah, searching his back pocket for his phone. She couldn’t quite see what he was doing. Probably finding the what3words app before calling 999. Made sense to be able to give the operator his location rather than make them triangulate his phone.

No. That was too quick. He’d not made the call! What the fuck, he was looking back up at the rider. Her waving was slowing.

Kareena didn’t want to believe it but logic overwhelmed her denial. The red on the spike was blood. It was pouring over the yellow jacket and dripping onto the tree. Was it a branch that had broken when her horse threw her onto the tree? She, again, felt sick and hot with panic. At least Alan was trying to help her, wasn’t he?

He must be climbing up because the jagged images jumped from his feet to the woman, to his hands back to feet. Surely, he wasn’t going to try and pull her off? That jagged branch must have punctured at least one vital abdominal organ.

Kareena grabbed her own phone and called Alan’s number. She couldn’t wait to watch the end of this clip even though there was only three minutes to go before the next set would upload.

Gone to voicemail. “Alan, call me urgently!”

The bugger wasn’t trying to get her down he’d rummaged in her bum-bag for something. Her phone. Was he going to call the emergency services on her own phone so his couldn’t be tracked? He was going to hit and run. 

Her own eyes filled with salty tears, unable to contain her emotions.

The screen blacked out.

She tried to activate the following clip but nothing. Maybe he’d turned off his phone at that point.

There’d be an online news service for the New Forest. She tapped on her smartphone: DailyEcho.co.uk.  Scrolling desperately in the news section, she found nothing newer than three hours. It was just over an hour ago so the rider might not yet have been found. All those movies where the horse arrived at the stables riderless came to mind.

Until Alan contacted her, there was nothing she could do. Alert an ambulance to go to somewhere in the New Forest? Over two-hundred square miles with many minor roads and unmarked lanes.

She turned on her office chair to make the black screen and phone stay behind her. Not out of mind exactly, yet it was in a way. She closed her eyes, initially to calm herself. Would that woman live? Possibly if a medical team had been alerted in time and helicoptered in.

His inaction might have killed her. In any case, his negligent riding had. The horse might have run into traffic and been hurt, too. The horrors multiplied.

Alan was a killer. She knew it. Moreover, he’d tried to hide it. She had him.

At thirty-two working in a London chambers, he was on his way to becoming a barrister, even though he was already wealthy from inherited bonds and property. Even if found guilty of accidental death, his career was blighted...if she told on him. She could now leave him without his threats to reveal her own lie.

Maybe he’d forgotten but that thought evaporated when Alan arrived back at their Earl’s Court apartment that night. 

He must have kept his helmet on all the way on two trains and the tube, because the MTB helmet visor shadowed his eyes to hide his face. He threw his muddy yet expensive bike against the hall wall and stood, legs apart, hands on hips.

“Don’t get any ideas, Kareena!”

“What are you talking about?”

His narrowed eyes pierced her own, but she wasn’t going to let on. Not yet. After a few moments he blinked and turned away, slumping on an easy chair, checking his phone, probably for morbidity news of the equestrian kind.

“Alan, I’ll throw a curry in the microwave. You grabbing a shower? You need it.”

He left the room then sped back to collect his phone. He didn’t want her to check it, but she’d already saved the incriminating footage in several places.

She could now demand a quicker divorce, but suppose he bargained with her own lie? She only went into translating Odia documents into English five years ago. After the first year it was all going swimmingly, in the metaphorical but also visual way. The rounded characters, logograms in a way, seduced her. Translating in a trance she transposed groups of characters into the nearest equivalent English phrase. It was usually business language because these were usually deed and legal documents.

She took little notice of the minutiae of content. She remained blissfully ignorant, resulting in her employers overcharging a Mumbai corporation three million for a Bollywood-type transfer of group royalties and permissions. Worse, the overcharge ended up in her own account. No one knew…except ratface Alan, who’d discovered it when his available credit leapt to three million pounds and forty-two pounds. In those days their credit accounts were backed up by each other’s current balances.

She became agitated and hot recalling the hours after the initial error.


“I have to give it back straight away.”

“Kar, you won’t know that Mumbai company’s bank details, nor your own firm’s, right?”

“Dammit. Okay, I’ll explain it to Vincent, my boss. He’ll know how to return the money.”

“Consider this then: even if you knew the account details, it would be traced back to yours.”

“As can its existence, Alan. Hey, the bank will know the account it came from.”

“They won’t tell you. Data Protection Law, and anyway the bank would then inform their fraud department. They might anyway but the less time it’s in there the chances get minimized. I know a bitcoin repository to transfer it to straight away then use the fund anonymously to buy gold or diamonds in a Swiss bank—again anonymously.”

“That would prove I intended to steal it. I have to confess to Vincent.”

“You’d lose your job, bad references, blacklisted credit, prison.”

“Damned if I keep it and damned if I don’t.”

“I’ll make it easier for you. There. Done it.”

“No! How could you open accounts that quickly, unless… you already had bitcoin and Swiss bank accounts!”

“Hardly anything in them. We had a finance module last year. I experimented. Quite legally.”

“Don’t you have to present yourself in person to open a Swiss bank deposit box?”

“Virtual proxy. Aren’t I clever?”

“Your deviousness might be our undoing, especially mine. I’ll have to play dumb if they notice.”

But nobody noticed. Amazing how much money could float around like leaves on a windy day. Even so, they couldn’t spend it or some auditor at HMRC would notice.

Correction. She couldn’t spend it.

She kept promising herself to work out a means of paying it all back even if to a Mumbai charity, anon. Every time she tried to dream up a scheme a headache would prevent her. Not the act of returning: that would be karma. The headache was Alan. Only he knew the Swiss bank codes and he’d talk her out of it, often by refusing to talk at all.

A few months ago, April 3rd, a manageress at her firm brought an iPad into her office. Judith Green, beige, neat suit, pink shirt—so seventies—wafts of anise and vanilla, sat in the only other swivel chair in her office.

That was it. Curtains. Her chest sank. She wanted her head to follow down into her neck, and onwards through her abdomen and to the floor. Her vision blackened around the periphery as if she was about to faint. She saw her red quartz talisman glowing, beckoning. Maybe it could help. She closed her eyes to focus on it while Green coughed to initiate her spiel.

“I was going through error in your, my accountability blunder funds…excuse you, me…I’ll sit. Oh, I am. Give a moment me.” Her eyes remained shut for at least three minutes.

It was working. She had never used gift before like this.

“I’ll start again, Prentice Miss Oh, sorry. Miss Pentacle. No.”

Kareena stood, pushing her chair back. “Miss Green. You aren’t well. It’s nearly home time. Would you like a glass of water, or tea? It’s all right…the accounts contain no discrepancy. Just looks like it. Start again tomorrow, perhaps, if you feel you need to.”

Miss Green massaged her brow, shook her head and stood, unsteadily. “Yes. Yes. Perhaps. Apologies Miss Green. No, that’s me, you’re Mr Green. No. Oh dear.”

Relief was short-lived. She’d found out. Kareena had lied, saying no discrepancy, but Green was in too much a state to notice. She might need to find another job. But then she’d have no control. And where could she find a job with her beloved Odia? She could freelance, work from home. That’s it.

She’d no need to worry. Miss Green had worried herself instead. Breakdown, they said.

Kareena’s turn next. So she stayed. Kept an eye. Suppose Miss Green blabbed and a new manager pried into transactions. They hadn’t, so far.


After the too-hot curry tea and a bottle of lightly oaked Chardonnay, they sat on opposite armchairs in the darkening room. Over-fussy ornaments adorned the mantlepiece and two glass cabinets. Mostly hers from India, plus a scattering of his MTB trophies, and an assortment of frames housing relatives who’d glared accusingly at them both.

She kicked off with, “I want a divorce. You do my head in and you refuse to discuss anything.”

He waved his hands as if batting a fly. “No. I need to be respectably married to move up in Chambers. Divorced at too young an age raises eyebrows. I don’t make any demands. You know the bedroom…well, we have our own rooms.”

“I want children but not from you. I’m not getting any younger. We don’t enjoy each other. I’m going to file tomorrow.”

He stood to fetch himself a bottle of Wicked. “You can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll tell your firm about the three million.”

“You won’t, or I’ll tell about the woman you killed.”

His face glowed red with the realisation that she’d seen his cam footage. “Accident!”

“So was my translation error.”

“Yours is the bigger lie.”

She snorted. “How do you make that out? Your negligence killed someone.”

“If I was found guilty of death by wanton and furious cycling I’d get around eighteen months to three years. When you embezzle millions of pounds you’d be jailed for ten years. Hence yours is the bigger lie.”

She slumped in her chair. “Perhaps. No wonder Oscar Wilde called the law an ass.”

He pointed his finger at her. “Ha, it was ‘the law is a ass’ and it was Dickens.”

“You’d know, being an expert on being ‘a ass’. It’s ridiculous that your killing by dangerous cycling should count for less than a case of missing money no one’s noticed.” She bit her tongue at not knowing if Alan knew about the transaction actually having been discovered in a temporary revelation followed by shaman-induced amnesia and breakdowns. One more manager going doo-ally would raise more eyebrows. She somehow needed to kill the problem at source and she knew how to do it now she’d become experienced with mind-bending via ancient spirits.

And then she focused on Hugh, the chief systems manager. She had a feeling there was going to be a catastrophic failure of a dataset on the mainframe and its backups. Oops, the rat was ranting again…

“…still alive.”

What? The bastard thought the horse-rider didn’t die? “She had a branch go right through her abdomen. It’d probably smashed through her liver, spleen, guts, everything. Blood ran all down that tree, didn’t it?”

He stood, making her worry for a moment in case she’d pushed him too far. He plonked himself down again sending up motes from the chair. “We don’t know for sure, do we? I didn’t check her vital signs. Panicked.”

“I don’t get it, Alan. You used her phone to call for help didn’t you?”

“Was going to, but her battery must’ve been flat.” Another lie. Probably.

“Where is it? They’ll track it to here!”

His eyes opened wide. “No. I dumped it after removing the sim card.”

“Really? So now it definitely can’t be seen as an accident. Unless you dropped it on the road, but without the sim…your fingerprints…”

“In the river. They’ll probably think she didn’t take it with her or lost it.”

“Idiot. You’ll be looking over your shoulder forever.”

“Like you.”

She didn’t tell him about her plan to kill off the data at source. After all, if he knew, he’d have to be silenced too. Where do deranged barristers go to, besides Parliament?

On the other hand, where was that three million now? In a Swiss deposit box that only Alan had access to. All she had to do was tip off the gendarmerie and make Alan forget how it got there. Sooner the better.

She reached into her shoulder bag to bring up her talisman. It wasn’t in its zipped pocket. Kareena frowned. She must have left it on her office desk, but perhaps it didn’t matter. A good shaman can use anything to focus on, or so she hoped.

She paused. She was now an accessory to the killing. Better not tell anyone, especially the police. Damn. She could use the accident to get Alan to do something important to her.

She fetched her divorce papers from a cabinet and placed them on the table.

“Here, Alan. Sign these and I won’t sing to the authorities about your hit and run.”

“Whaaaa—fuck. I suppose so.”

She could hardly believe it. “Let’s have a final drink to celebrate.”

She reached into the kitchen cupboard for her favourite celebratory tipple, Crème de Menthe. Alan hated it, all the more for her. He was opening a can of Stella when she returned. They sat and sipped in silence for a few minutes. She frowned at him dabbing at his phone, but it didn’t matter anymore. She had her divorce and footage as insurance in case.


She’d better stay sitting for a while. Her head, buzzing. Fingers—pins and needles. She couldn’t be drunk after a small glass of the green ambrosia. Her neck was too stiff to look up at Alan, grinning like the Cheshire cat. Something wrong, somebody behind her. She couldn’t turn to see. An arm came into her peripheral vision and put something between herself and Alan. Her talisman. Glowing, or was it the light?

What was her red quartz eye doing with… who?

The arm was followed by someone sniggering, sauntering towards Alan. A woman, in riding gear.

The penny dropped. The accident was a lie.

The woman pulled up a chair to sit next to Alan. She removed her riding helmet, releasing long red hair and a smirk of scarlet lipstick. Judie Green.

“Surprise, Kareena,” the ex-manager said. “Thank you for the divorce. Apologies for stealing your talisman, though I don’t think it actually works. Fugu works wonderfully as a paralytical toxin. Masked by your crème de menthe nicely. Don’t worry, we’ll look after your living corpse. We’ll pay a discreet private hospital to do it for us. After all, the origin of your three million is expunged and has increased in value already and you deserve to have some of it spent on you.”