Alice is being stalked by Bob. Though she's somewhat worried about what could happen, she goes to sleep, believing that at least she's safe in her own bed. Then, when she wakes up, she notices that a picture of her late husband, Chris, is missing from the table. Alternatively, Bob has left a note on that same table. Either way, the message is clear; Bob was right by her side that night and could've done anything to her, and she didn't notice a thing.
A common variation consists of Alice pissing off a killer. However, instead of the killer simply, well, killing Alice, he wants to scare her. So he sneaks into her house at night and leaves a bullet or something equally shocking on her pillow, sending a very clear message.
The point is that whoever sneaked into the room got so close to the victim that he could've done anything he wanted. This is often a lot scarier than actually carrying out the threat.
Though the good guys can be the sneaker, it's a lot rarer than the other way around, and mostly reserved for very dark Anti Heroes
and Terror Heroes
Compare If I Wanted You Dead...
, Trespassing to Talk
. Also compare Gaslighting
, where the goal is to make changes without the victim knowing it, whereas here you make changes specifically to scare or taunt the victim.
- This happens in The Godfather as a result of the title character's offer being refused. Jack Woltz wakes up with the severed head of his prize horse, Khartoum, in his bed.
- In Following, The Gentleman Thief Cobb steals more For the Lulz / For the Evulz than out of need, and he sometimes doesn't take anything, but will go through keepsakes and make sure the people there know it, in order to disrupt their lives.
- This possibly happened in Eyes Wide Shut. Due to it being a bit of a Mind Screw movie, it's unknown if the bad guys left the main character's mask on his bed as a threat or if his wife simply found the mask herself.
- In the film Copycat, as Dr. Helen Hudson comes out of the shower, she finds her red suit lying on her bed. This is already an indication that someone has broken in, but the fear factor increases when Helen realizes that the suit is the one she was wearing when she was attacked by a serial killer one year prior. The message is doubly frightening—"I know where you live, and I'm going to finish the job that he couldn't".
- In a deleted scene from After the Sunset, local gangster Moret casually tells Max, "I love the view of the water from your house." Max corrects him, "You mean the view of my house from the water" (Not that this is much better, as both statements warn him that the guy knows where he lives). The gangster informs him that the first statement was correct, effectively warning Max not to cross him.
- Sleeping with the Enemy: While bathing, Laura notices that the bathroom towels have been arranged the way her abusive husband insisted. She freaks out, but upon noticing that nothing else is out of the ordinary, dismisses it. . .until she returns home from her date and finds her tub overflowing (a possible reference to the way she faked her drowning death?), the kitchen towels rearranged (they were not like this before), and her cupboard arranged the way he always wanted it. Rather than some long, drawn-out stalking, he almost immediately reveals himself to her.
- Colombiana. The protagonist is sent to kill an embezzler, who wakes up amidst his sleeping Paid Harem to find the word THIEF and an orchid (the assassin's Calling Card) painted on his chest. He then finds all his bodyguards have been murdered. It gets worse.
- The Deep (1977) has a version where the victim is in the house (but not her boyfriend, whom the threat is also against) with the Big Bad sending his men to do some weird voodoo stuff to Jacqueline Bisset's character in order to scare her.
- Killer Elite. A Retired Badass is forced to do One Last Job. After completing the job, he's retired to his home when he gets an unexpected phone call from his employer saying he still has to kill one more person, and implying that he has hitman's girlfriend. He rushes to her room only to find she's sleeping peacefully. Then he finds a cartridge case tucked into her hair.
- In a Heralds of Valdemar novel, a minor noble sends an assassin after the Empire's heir (who is also an assassin). Said heir kills the man and leaves his body in the nursery of the noble's son.
- The Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet. John Ferrier is being threatened by a Mormon cult and wakes up one morning with a note pinned to his chest telling him he has thirty days to give in to their demands. After that, no matter how carefully he secures his property or stays up all night on watch, every morning there's a message somewhere in the house counting down how long he has left.
- In the novel The Client, young Mark is attacked in an elevator by a hitman who warns him not to talk to the FBI (shortly before committing suicide, a man had told Mark where the body of a missing politician was buried). To emphasize the seriousness of his threat, the man shows Mark a picture of his family, which Mark instantly recognizes as having been on his coffee table.
- In the Tess Gerrittsen novel The Surgeon, as the titular character returns to her office, she notices some minor items are not where she left them, but dismisses it. But when the threats against her begin, she realizes that the criminal has already been stalking her and that the out-of-place things were meant to start rattling her peace of mind.
- In a rare heroic example, Dora Wilk and her werewolf commando break into the Monster of the Week's house, find their nesting place (Doraverse vampires sleep during day) and leave... nauseatingly cute illusions. Message, though, is very clear - they could kill them anytime and they couldn't do a damn thing about it. Made even clearer when Szelma breaks in as a cat and leave a politely composed invitation on the table, behind its owner's back.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2, the vampire Angelus sneaks into Buffy's bedroom while she's sleeping and draws a picture of her, which he leaves for her to find in the morning. (Buffy had previously allowed Angel into her home, and hadn't removed the permission after Angel turned into Angelus. Once she became aware of this, she had Willow perform a spell to uninvite him.)
- In the first season of Dexter, the Ice Truck Killer sneaks into Dexter's apartment several times, and leaves calling cards each time (dismembered dolls, smiley faces). However, Dexter's reaction to the intrusion subverts the trope: he realizes that it isn't a threat, but rather an invitation to "play."
- In an early episode of Burn Notice, someone sneaks into Michael's apartment and leaves surveillance photos all over his floor...and each one is of Michael, at various points when he was on a job or pulling some scheme. Along with all that is a card that says "Welcome to Miami" and a handwritten note that says something to the effect of "We'll be watching you".
- In Babylon 5, an assassin leaves a black flower in Ambassador G'Kar's bed, as a warning that he has been targeted by the assassins' guild.
G'Kar: And you have no idea how that [black flower] got into my bed?
Na'Toth: Ambassador, it is not my place to speculate on how anything gets into your bed. Your reputed fascination with Earth women, for instance...
- In the Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye episode "Bad Hair Day," Tara shoots and kills a criminal and his brother tries to get revenge. He leaves a note in her car (which is locked and in a secure garage) saying he can get to her whenever he wants.
- Played for Laughs in the Corner Gas episode "Shirt Disturber." Davis is trying to sell alarm systems, so he breaks into Oscar and Emma's bedroom one morning with coffee. ("This could have been a burglar bringing you coffee!") They buy an alarm system just to make him leave them alone.
- A Lifetime Movie of the Week had a woman being stalked by a man (of course) whom she had testified against. After going all out to secure the locks on her doors and install an alarm system, the woman dozed off on her couch, only to wake up and find a threat written on her bathroom window.
- This was the schtick of the villain of the week on one episode of The Avengers; in one example, a victim finishes his tea and finds the word "POISON" inscribed on the bottom of his cup.
- Something similar happens in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Mad Mad Tea Party Affair". Just before an important conference, a series of non-lethal attacks are launched on UNCLE headquarters by a mysterious infiltrator. It turns out to be an UNCLE agent acting on Da Chief's orders, to make sure no-one is lax.
- The Bible: In a rare reversal, David pulls this one on Saul. However, it's closer to a warning than a threat, as David was so close to Saul that he could've easily killed him, instead choosing to take away his pike and water bottle. After sneaking out of the camp, David then stated to the guard captain that he was able to sneak right into the camp before holding a small speech to Saul. Saul, however, didn't get the message and kept the war going.
- The Hashishim — the original Assassins — were a medieval Middle Eastern cult of "Nizari Ismailis" with a taste for assassination as a political tool. Legend says that they would threaten high profile targets by leaving a dagger under the victim's pillow. However, that may be a myth; mostly, their tactics seem to have involved blunt, suicidal killing attacks rather than that level of subtlety.
- It's reported that weapons designer Gerald Bull came home to find that someone rearranged the furniture in his apartment. This was after he had been warned to stop working for Saddam Hussein.
- One of the Manson Family's less violent hobbies was "creepy-crawling", or breaking into houses at night, preferably with the residents home, and doing things like moving furniture.
- Richard Feynman claims that he did this while working at Los Alamos, though it was more "break-in warning" than "break-in threat", as he tried to draw attention to what he saw as security flaws. As anyone with any experience with bureaucracy can guess, the people there tended to be more angry with Feynmann for pointing out the flaws than they were about the flaws existing in the first place.
- The compound where they were working was supposedly secure: anyone going in or out had to sign in at a guard post. Feynmann found a hole in the fence, and when the hole didn't get fixed after he reported it, he started using the hole to leave every day, with the result that the guards had many records of him signing in, but none of him signing out.
- The scientists were required to lock their documents in desk drawers whenever they weren't using them to keep them out of the hands of potential spies. Feynmann discovered the locks were easily picked. As with the hole in the fence, he reported it and nothing happened. To draw attention to it, whenever he needed a documents that his colleagues had, he broke into their desks and just took them, then enjoyed the looks on their faces when he returned the documents later. They of course learned the lesson: change your combination and keep Feynman away from your safe.
- An urban legend as retold here by Snopes:
[A] woman who had elaborately burglar-proofed her midtown Manhattan apartment... returned home one day to find her furniture rearranged. Nothing was missing, but she happened upon a chilling note which read: "If we want to get you, we will."
- A common variant has someone find out that their elaborately protected car has been turned around in the night with a note that says "When we want it, we'll take it."