I read this story in 2004, in a photocopied handout for a class, but I'm sure it was published long before then. Though the plot is pretty dark, the tone of the writing is lighthearted.

A lonely man finds a magic toy gun that makes people disappear. Once he realizes what it does, he gradually eliminates people he dislikes. Unfortunately, he's very unsociable and dislikes most people he meets, so he gradually eliminates the population of his entire city. Finally, he goes on a series of dates with different women, but find ridiculous superficial reasons to eliminate each one with the gun.

After everyone in the city is gone, he shoots himself with the gun and vanishes. The city gradually repopulates, and at the end of the story, a child finds the gun and tries shooting someone with it. As he pulls the trigger, the story ends like:

Nothing happened. He was too young to have any really strong desires yet.


the gun can actually do anything you desire. This guy wanted to make everyone disappear, so that's what the gun did.

I think the story also mentions the man's childhood, but this may be from a different story. He was very ugly as a baby. As a joke, his family put their dog in his bassinet and showed it to their relatives. The relatives couldn't tell the difference between the dog and the ugly baby (and actually thought the dog looked better), so the family just kept the baby hidden and passed off the dog as their family's infant son.

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    Interesting. I assume it's not this one, but it does sound a lot like Daniel Clowes's 2004 graphic novel The Death-Ray (even down to parts of the ending). I don't think it has the part about the dog and the baby, but the main character does have a dog from childhood and into his adult years (both periods of which are shown in the comic).
    – tobiasvl
    Jan 19, 2017 at 20:16

1 Answer 1


This story is entitled "Embittered Super" and is part of a trio of short stories entitled "Granted Wishes" by Thomas Berger. It originally ran in the October 1982 issue of Harper's magazine and has been anthologized in Abnormal Occurrences. (The baby-dog swap is also another story in the "Granted Wishes" trio, entitled "Ugly Guy" unrelated to the plot of Embittered Super.)

Opening lines:

Charlie Bolger was the "super," which was to say, janitor of a large apartment building in the middle of the city. He had had this job since as long as he could remember, and hated it, and the tenants he served, more every year.

And on using the gun for the first time:

He had not been childish even as a little boy, and whatever playfulness he had known had long since been exhausted, yet now, almost lightheartedly, Charlie raised the toy and pointed it at the approaching mailman, a malicious individual who loved to load building supers with armloads of packages too large for the postal boxes. [...]

"So long, sucker," said Charlie. He pulled the trigger of the toy weapon [...] and the mailman instantly disappeared, without even the proverbial puff of smoke!

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