Eerily Out-of-Place Object

Sometimes an otherwise ordinary, commonplace, and utterly inoffensive object can become disconcerting simply by being found unexpectedly in a place which, by all rights, it simply should not be. Sometimes it's merely in an absurdly remote location, or one so far divorced from the object's apparent function that no one in their right mind would ever put them there, such as a lighthouse in the middle of the desert or a child's shoe in the cavity between the wall of an old church. Other times, the objects presence is not only unlikely but impossible, such as the wreckage of a modern-day fighter jet embedded in solid rock several millions of years old or an abandoned 1950s-style diner on an uncharted alien world. It shouldn't be there. It can't be there. In any reasonable universe, it wouldn't be there. And yet... there it is, plain as the nose on your face, raising unsettling questions about who (if anyone) put it there and why, and what possible sequence of events could have led it to where it is, sometimes even going against reason at such a fundamental level that it calls into question the very nature of reality as you thought you knew it.

Depending on the story, the out-of-place object may never be explained, and may possibly not even serve any real role in the story beyond contributing to the general uncanny off atmosphere of an already creepy locale, while in other settings these are merely the result of Time Travel or Teleportation, though leaving it unexplained is often the most effectively unsettling.

Related to Ontological Mystery, which is when the thing you find somewhere you can't explain with no idea how it got there is yourself. Supertrope to Saharan Shipwreck, where a ship is found far away from water (e.g. in the middle of a desert). Compare Anachronistic Clue.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Film  

  • Alien vs. Predator, kicks off with an entire pyramid showing up in the middle of Mysterious Antarctica.
  • The closing scene from Planet of the Apes (1968) has astronaut George Taylor and his Satellite Love Interest encounter the remains of the Statue of Liberty on a desolate beach. Up to that point, Taylor thought he had landed on an alien planet where apes had mastery. This sight is The Reveal that this is Earth in the far future, after humanity has nuked themselves back to the stone age, leaving the wild simians to seize dominance.
  • The monolith from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey appears before Moonwatcher's tribe without forewarning, and the primates shriek and howl at the ominous block. Later in the story, geologists on the moon uncover a similar monolith, which they estimate was buried there millions of years ago. It emits a piercing shriek across several radio frequencies once the rising sun shines upon it.
  • The mysterious, ever-present blue box (no, not that one) and its equally mysterious key in Mulholland Dr.. This being a David Lynch film, opening the box only raises further questions.
  • Immediately after traveling "sideways" in time in Land of the Lost, the characters come across a crashed Cessna on a wrecked viking ship, overlapping with Saharan Shipwreck. The eeriness is not just in finding either object in the desert, but in finding the two objects from vastly differnt time periods together.
  • In the film version of I Am Legend, Richard Neville, apparently the last man on earth, has set up a whole series of mannequins in specific places, where he interacts and speaks to them to ease his loneliness. And then one day, one of them is far out of place...

     Literature  

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The iconic lamppost in the forest of the otherwise medieval world of Narnia. Not creepy, but its uncanny sense of not-belonging served to make the otherworld feel all the more otherworldly. The prequel The Magician's Nephew explains that it was accidentally transported there from London while Narnia was still in the process of being formed and... took root.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Strata, the protagonist, Kin, works for a company that uses terraforming to build new worlds from the ground up, (complete with false geological, fossil, and archeological records to conceal these planets' true natures from their future inhabitants), and it's her job to find and correct unauthorized out-of-place artifacts left by other builders attempting to troll future archeologists, a prank which the company believes might potentially topple said archeologists' civilizations if left unchecked. One notable example is a fossilized plesiosaur skeleton in the wrong stratum holding a placard reading "End Nuclear Testing Now".
  • Inherit the Stars, the first book in the Giants series by James P. Hogan, begins with the discovery of a man in a spacesuit found dead on the moon. All that's known about him is that he's not from any nation on earth and he's been there for 50,000 years.
  • Abarat features a lighthouse in the middle of a field. In Minnesota.

     Live-Action TV  

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, episode "The Survivors": Acting on a distress call, the Enterprise encounters a desolate world where the inhabitants who sent the SOS signal have been annihilated by an alien race, the Husnock. There's just one thing out of place: a quaint little spotless cottage belonging to an elderly human couple, the only survivors on the entire planet. How they remain there alive with everyone else dead remains a mystery until Picard figures things out at the end: Only one of them survived the attack. The woman is an illusion and the man isn't even human. He's an incredibly powerful entity called a Douwd, possibly nearly as powerful a Q. He was also a pacifist, who refused to fight with the colonists. When his wife was killed along with the other colonists, he lashed out in anger and annihilated not only their assailants, but also the entire 50 billion members of the Husnock species. He voluntarily isolated himself to atone for his crime.
  • This was the original point of the TARDIS being a police box in Doctor Who - the first story has it mysteriously found in a fog-bound scrapyard, and then appearing on prehistoric Earth. Now forgotten, as the police box is now known by most viewers only as the TARDIS, and it's become an object of comfort.
  • Flash Forward: The kangaroo. (Of course, it could have simply escaped from a zoo during the blackout. Still, in context it's exactly played as this trope.)

     Stand-Up Comedy 

  • John Mulaney recounts being very perturbed by the sight of an empty, overturned wheelchair on a dark, deserted street in New York City:
    "That's a bad thing to see. Something happened here. You hope it was a miracle... but probably not."

     Video Games  

  • One of the driving mysteries of Lifeless Planet is an abandoned Soviet town on a barren, supposedly unexplored planet.
  • Silent Hill: A wheelchair is a common sight in hospitals or around handicapped people. Lying on the side in the middle of a road, with not a single person in 1000 meters around it, however, is not a good place for it to be. There isn't even blood. This pops up a lot throughout the series, really; often the objects have some associated significance to a character in the story even though they may or may not have put it there, but sometimes there will be a single colorful toy or baby carriage into a bloody, rusted-out room, just for the sake of unexplained, incongruous creepiness.
  • In The Last of Us you will find children drawings and toys inside an underground shelter that is flooded with infected. Joel tries to calm Sam by saying they probably escaped. They didn't.

     Web Original  

  • These pop up occasionally in Welcome to Night Vale, with one of the more notable examples being the lighthouse with the red beacon on the top of the mountain in the middle of a desert otherworld with no human inhabitants, and a miniature (and very hostile) civilization beneath the floorboards of the bowling alley. The latter eventually declares war on our world, while the former plays an important and very un-lighthouse-like role in one of Night Vale's larger and more mindscrewy crises. Neither is ever fully explained.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EerilyOutOfPlaceObject