We've all been there. It's never our idea to go into the big spooky house. It's never our idea to go hang out in the haunted graveyard. We'd much rather be at home, hanging with the friends who didn't accuse us of lying about that nasty sound we heard or the giant shadow we saw.
This trope is the Horror-genre convention of a monster (or some comparable threat) making a point of toying with some hapless straggler, usually just out of sight of everyone else in the group, often when it has absolutely no reason to. It's like a sadistic cat toying with a mouse, sometimes just barely offering a glimpse before letting Nothing Be Scarier. At some more advanced stages, it might to approximate Gaslighting, which is an attempt to deliberately cause psychological harm by messing with a person's environment.
It's really quite a devilish strategy. By tormenting the straggler and disappearing before being caught, the monster gets to sow negative emotions in the group, fear in the victim, annoyance in the team (this sort of thing is good fuel for a Cassandra Truth), and resentment in both; bonus points if the main cast start to think that whoever's seeing the monster might be getting Driven to Madness (and even more if he does). So common among monsters that you'll even find it in the ones that really have no business being half that clever. This is, of course, a favorite tool of the Suspiciously Stealthy Predator and sometimes used by the Stealthy Colossus.
There is, of course, lots of overlap between this and Monster Delay, which is about hiding the monster from the audience as much as the majority cast.
- This is a Running Gag on Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and its follow-ups. The monster scares Costello's character and he tries to warn Abbott, but the monster is nowhere to be seen and Abbott thinks Costello is just seeing things.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the planet Vogsphere is infested with shovel-like parasites that prey on free thought by smacking anyone who has it in the face. Arthur gets bludgeoned twice and dismissed... right up until Ford gets hit right afterwards. Despite their best efforts, the characters all have to go running through the desert under constant attacks.
Ford: Don't think!
- A Sesame Street cartoon featured a kid sure that there was an alligator in his room, but his mother couldn't find it. It turned out to be his dog having some fun with a flashlight.
- The entire premise of the classic (and often parodied) The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is that Shatner's character can see a gremlin trying to sabotage the plane he's travelling in from his window seat, but it hides whenever anyone else looks. At the end, he ends up being dragged off to a mental asylum, but it's implied that the damage to the plane might vindicate him.
- In the Grand Finale of Two and a Half Men, Alan and Walden are stalked by someone who might be Alan's thought-dead brother Charlie, one of the original main characters. At one point they find two stand up cutouts of themselves in the house with their heads X-ed out and "DIE!" scrawled over them.
- 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Fiend Folio supplement. If a party of PCs breaks the seal of a meenlock den but doesn't enter it, the meenlocks will follow the party. They'll pick out one PC to harrass by sending him telepathic messages that they are pursuing him and intend to make him one of them. The other PCs will perceive none of this and may assume their companion is going mad. Each hour of harrassment inflicts penalties to the target's ability scores and combat abilities. That night the meenlocks will attack the camp and try to capture their target. If they succeed they will take the PC back to their den and turn him into a meenlock.
- SCP Foundation
- SCP-372 ("Peripheral Jumper"). When first encountered it was allowing itself to be seen by a patient in a medical facility but using its powers to prevent itself from being seen by anyone else, apparently just to harass him.
- SCP-513 ("A Cowbell"). Anyone who hears a noise made by SCP-513 (such as it being rung) is thereafter stalked by an emaciated humanoid with large hands. The humanoid is invisible to everyone except those who heard the noise. The stalking causes sleep deprivation and mental stress, causing the victim to suffer paranoia and depression. All but one of the known victims has committed suicide.
- SCP-796 ("River Cat"). SCP-796 stalks one specific person at a time. It is completely visible to that person, but is not seen by most other people. People who are very perceptive or have psychic abilities may be able to spot it.
- SCP-966 ("Sleep Killer"). SCP-966 is a humanoid being that can only be seen by a creature that can see infrared light. It uses a special ability to render a victim unable to sleep, waits until the victim collapses from sleep deprivation and then eats it. It is known to deliberately make scary noises and even assault the target to hasten its psychological collapse. Repeated use of its special ability on a subject can cause the victim to have vivid hallucinations and/or enter a rage state.
- SCP-2490 ("Chaos Insurgency Special Operative Alpha-19"). SCP-2490's true form is made up of jointed segments with an oblong head. It can generates a field that disguises it as a normal human being. It appears in its real form only to its intended target. It appears near its target repeatedly over a period of weeks and eventually kills it.
- Family Guy: The Evil Monkey that lives in Chris' closet, only to come out and point at Chris. Nobody else sees it and they all think that Chris is imagining it.
- The episode "Duck!" from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy features a ghost duck, visible only by the victim it chooses, that makes loud fart noises, making everyone believe that said victim is farting. It only does for For the Lulz.
- The Simpsons Halloween short "Terror at 5 1/2 Feet" parodies the Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" by shifting the setting to Bart riding on the school bus.
- The "Road to Tasmania" episodes of Taz-Mania feature Taz fighting off villains after some MacGuffin or other in Funny Background Events while his father and uncle remain oblivious.
- One Rowan Atkinson sketch involves an invisible man tormenting a man on the subway.