The first time they murder Billy, it’s an accident. June and Ed are half-asleep in each other’s arms, so they don’t hear her husband come home early. When Billy opens their bedroom door and sees them, she leaps out of bed and tries to keep him from getting at Ed, but June only manages to trip him. Billy stumbles forward and slams his forehead squarely against the corner of the footboard.

The second time they murder Billy, it’s in self-defense. June and Ed are half-asleep in each other’s arms, so they don’t hear her husband come home early. When Billy opens their bedroom door and charges in, June leaps out of bed and tries to keep him from getting at Ed, then screams when Billy raises his Glock. He aims at her, she ducks and darts away, and he aims again. This gives Ed time to leap out of bed and grab his brother. They struggle like they must have when they were boys, but Billy won’t give up the gun, and finally Ed throws him down, slamming his forehead squarely against the corner of the footboard.

The third time they murder Billy, it’s premeditated. June and Ed are half-asleep in each other’s arms, but June wakes up when she hears her husband grab the knob of the bedroom door, then pause. She nudges Ed, points at the door, and reaches for her nightstand. Ed grabs her arm and shakes his head. She shakes him off, eases open the drawer and takes out her .38. Billy bought her the gun to make sure she was safe while he was away. When Billy finally opens the door and charges in, the Glock’s already raised. She shoots him in the thigh. Billy stumbles forward and slams his forehead squarely against the corner of the footboard.

The last time they murder Billy, he finishes the job for them. June and Ed are half-asleep in each other’s arms, so they don’t hear her husband come home early. When Billy opens their bedroom door, June tries to leap out of bed, but he shoots from the hallway, hitting her in the shoulder, then through the eye. Ed scrambles for the .38 in her nightstand, but Billy shoots him in the hip, the ribs, his outstretched arm, and then in the head.

The blood drains from Billy’s face. His outrage fades. His knees buckle. He stumbles into the bedroom, and to steady himself he leans against the corner of the footboard, which jostles June’s body. She slides to the floor in a tangle of sheets. Billy drops the Glock and kneels besides her. He takes her hand. It’s limp.

Billy still wants to tell her his big news, the reason he came home early: After a couple decades of 18-hour days and 7-day workweeks, he’s perfected the reset pill. Now when a person dies in an accident, their consciousness will flash back twelve minutes to warn them. Everyone will take it daily like the most important of vitamins. Untold millions of lives will be saved. And they’ll be rich, free at last to do everything they’ve always dreamed about doing before his life wasn’t consumed by work.

Billy hears sirens and wonders whether a death has to be accidental to activate the reset. If not, the next time around, maybe he could convince himself to not go home, to not get his Glock from the basement, to not head back to the bedroom. Maybe he and June could work things out and live the lives they’d always wanted. Maybe in time he could even forgive his brother.

A squad car stops outside. A radio squawks. Feet hammer up the walk. Before the cops can open the front door, Billy picks up the Glock and, in the interest of science, shoots himself in the forehead.


The trade paperback edition of Stephen S. Power’s novel, “The Dragon Round,” was published by Simon & Schuster in June. His short fiction has appeared most recently at Amazing Stories and Daily Science Fiction and will soon appear again in Unnerving. You can find him online or on Twitter @stephenspower.