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Eerily Out-of-Place Object

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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 it there, such as a lighthouse in the middle of the desert or a child's shoe in the cavity inside the wall of an old church. Other times, the object's 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.

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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), and Ominous Cube. Compare Anachronistic Clue.


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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • The DC Rebirth one-shot ends with the Comedian's button being found lodged in the wall of the Batcave. Since Watchmen doesn't even exist in the main DCU, its origin is a complete mystery, which Batman and The Flash investigate over the course of the subsequent crossover The Button.
  • Robin (1993): During a visit to an archeological dig Jack Drake comes across an amulet that does not fit the culture or time period, and the overseer decides they don't want to try and account for it and so tell him to go ahead and take the mysterious thing home. It is, of course, a possessed cursed trinket that ended up embedded in the earth years ago while the JSA was fighting an evil sorceress.
  • The DCU time traveler Walker Gabriel, the second Chronos, is stuck in the Wild West and realizes he's stumbled across another time traveler when he finds a music player and headphones amongst her supplies.
  • In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, a flashback to when the Arkham mansion was being renovated into an asylum shows Amadeus Arkham finding a Joker playing card outside of his daughter's room. He says that a worker must've dropped, but the script notes that he's not entirely convinced by his own explanation.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
    • A similiar moment in the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, when Brent goes into some kind of ancient subterranean ruin and finds a big sign that says "Queensboro Plaza", cluing him in to what Taylor (and the audience) already know.
    • The second sequel, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, opens with a derelict spaceship falling into the ocean near San Francisco some time in the early '70s. When the authorities investigate, they find no humans aboard - but three chimpanzees.
  • 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 house where the end of the The Blair Witch Project takes place is smack in the middle of the woods. If anything, this makes it even creepier than the forest itself.
  • 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, Robert 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...
  • In Heart of Darkness (1958), an untamed jungle is inexplicably divided up by delicate sheer curtains that look like they belong indoors.

     Folklore 
  • There's a campfire story about a teenage girl babysitting for her neighbours. The evening is going well, but there's a statue of a clown in the parents' bedroom that she finds unsettling. After she puts the kids to bed, the parents call to check in, and she asks if she can cover up the clown, since it makes her uncomfortable. The parents are alarmed and confused, telling her "We don't have a clown statue... Get the children out of the house!"

    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 literally took root as if it were a tree because of all the magic in the place.
  • 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. 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.
  • All Tomorrows: When the star people find a dinosaur skeleton on an alien planet otherwise inhabited by creatures with three limbs, a copper-based skeletal system and hydrostatically operated muscles, they know there is something wrong. Soon after that, an alien power attacks and defeat the star people.
  • The Famous Five: In Five Run Away Together, the Five discover a little black trunk hidden in the wrecked ship off Kirrin Island, which is quite dry and new. Even more extraordinary is when they later break it open, and find that it contains children's clothes and dolls.
  • The Magicians features a prime example of this in the form of Brakebills South. It's essentially an exact replica of the main Brakebills campus in upstate New York, a stately eighteenth-century English manor house... except it's right in the middle of an Antarctic snowfield.
  • The Wind in the Willows: A benevolent example occurs when Mole and Rat are lost in the Wild Wood during a heavy snowfall. Mole trips over a door scraper, buried in the snow, and not far from it they find a doormat as well. Mole assumes that some careless person has been dumping their garbage in the forest, but the intuitive Rat reasons a door must not be far off. Sure enough, a bit of digging in the snow reveals the home of Mr. Badger, who happily gives them shelter.
  • H. P. Lovecraft was fond of this trope, mainly as a way to imply, rather than directly show, the horrible secrets going on in his world. Typically, he was fond of his characters finding some influence of human - or at least, intelligent - presence, often a ruined city, in an extreme environment or other place where it would not normally be found.
    • "The Temple" has the last surviving crew member of a German U-Boat, succumbing to the madness of the ocean, the isolation, and possibly the malign influence of some unknowable entity, finding the Underwater Ruins of a city at the bottom of the Atlantic.
    • In "Dagon", a shipwrecked sailor washes up on a newly-formed island thrown up to the surface by volcanic activity, covered in the rotting mess of deep-sea life that didn't survive the ascent — but the island already contains a mysterious stone monolith that is unmistakably the product of deliberate craftsmanship.
    • At the Mountains of Madness: A ruined city is found deep in Mysterious Antarctica.
  • Johannes Cabal: The titular Necromancer Anti-Hero lives in a townhouse that he transported to the English countryside through unknown, probably supernatural means. The locals stay well away from it, largely because of him.
  • Iremonger Series: Everyday objects frequently appear in strange places, and people mysteriously go missing...

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • This was the original point of the TARDIS being a police box — 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.
    • "The Ghost Monument" actually pulls it with the TARDIS, again. The titular Ghost Monument is actually the TARDIS caught in a millennium-long dematerialization loop, and when new companions Graham, Ryan and Yaz see it in a hologram, they are all just confused as to why an old police box would be on an alien planet. Of course, the Doctor and the audience have a different reaction.
  • 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.)
  • Lost: The polar bear. Seemingly out of place on an island in the Pacific. This later is revealed to be part of one of the Dharma Initiative's experiments.
  • 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.

    Radio 
  • Quiet Please!: Episode "The Thing on the Fourble Board". The oil drillers find a gold ring in the rock their oil drill has pulled out of the ground. The problem? That rock was a mile deep and had been a mile deep for a million years.

    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."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Delta Green supplement Project Rainbow, a kind of special radiation related to Crawford Tillinghast's invention from the H. P. Lovecraft story "From Beyond" allows for an extremely limited (and potentially accidental) form of time travel. In one of the sample adventures provided, the Game Master is encouraged to have a Player Character come across their own fossilized remains, foretelling that they will fall victim to a time travel malfunction very soon.

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham Series
    • If you play the supplemental "Batgirl: A Matter of Family" from Batman: Arkham Knight, wander around in some of the random corners of the amusement park long enough, and you'll eventually come face-to-eye with Starro, in a tank hidden in a dark enclosed area.
    • In Batman: Arkham Origins, while exploring Cyrus Pinkney's crypt you can find a red-tinted doll missing an eye in a basin. There's absolutely no explanation for what it is or why it's there.
  • Spies in Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom will appear as a random worker walking around the city. But the location and occupation are random, so they could easily be a completely inappropriate worker, such as a food salesman in the industrial district or a miner walking around the residential area.
  • Gliding around in your submarine in Grand Theft Auto V can quickly become creepy in many ways, not least of which because the ocean floor is littered with sunken planes. There's something unsettling about seeing something that's supposed to fly now resting and buried beneath the water, far away from the light.
  • One of the driving mysteries of Lifeless Planet is an abandoned Soviet town on a barren, supposedly unexplored planet.
  • Silent Hill: This pops up a lot throughout the series. 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 inside a bloody, rusted-out Otherworld room, just for the sake of unexplained, incongruous creepiness.
    • A wheelchair is a common sight in hospitals or around handicapped people. Lying on the side in the middle of a road or back alley, with not a single person in 1000 meters around it, however, is not a good place for it to be. Doubles as a recurring reference to Jacob's Ladder.
    • In Silent Hill 4: The Room, one of the rooms in the Hospital World contains a flower pot right in the center of the floor, filled with dried-out flowers.
    • Lightbulbs inside a sealed tin can in Silent Hill 2.
  • 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.
  • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow has the random vehicles in The Lost Village by the virtue of being one of the few reminders, along with the occasional handgun, that the game takes place in the future - 2036 in fact. This doesn't make them any less out of place in a jarringly way.
  • Stellaris: Played for laughs with one anomaly you can find being... a teapot. Floating in deep space. No explanation is ever given, and your scientists eventually just give up even trying to figure out how and why it's there.

    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 and is revealed to be the result of one of the more important chunks of lore, while the former plays an important and very un-lighthouse-like role in one of Night Vale's larger and more mindscrewy crises.
  • Staircases in Search and Rescue Woods, standing in the middle of the forest with no other structures around them. Don't touch them. Don't look at them. Don't go up them.
  • These are quite common in the world of SCP Foundation. One example is an indestructible floating cheeseburger in the middle of nowhere that makes people go crazy trying come up with an explanation for why it is there.


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