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Someone is happily living out his life -- frequently a Cool Old Guy or Older Sidekick -- until, out of the blue, he receives a cryptic message. It might not even be composed of words; it may be a piece of paper with a symbol, a scratched casino chip or a whistle done by a passing stranger. Few but the recipient knows what it means.
He, however, now knows that the nice people he used to befriend have marked him for death or something equally nasty, and they might be coming in person to enforce it. This was his fair warning.
Related to Trouble Entendre.
- Claymore inverts this trope: The black spot is a cue for the receiving Claymore to go mercy-kill another Claymore.
- Sent BY the Claymore who wants to die, no less.
- In an issue of Hellblazer where one of Constantine's friends finds himself stalked by characters from fiction, he is warned of his fate by Blind Pew from Treasure Island slipping him the black spot (see Literature examples below).
- The character X from Dark Horse Comics would send his victims a photograph of themselves with one stroke through it as a warning. If they did not heed the warning, they would receive a photo with a second stroke (forming an 'x') telling them he had marked them for death.
- I Know What You Did Last Summer. A group of teenagers kills a man while drunk driving and covers it up. Someone decides they must pay for their crime and sends the title message.
- In Air America, after the plane he and Billy are flying gets shot down, Jack Neely says "I knew it. The golden BB. I saw it in the mirror this morning when I cut myself shaving."
- In a probable homage to Treasure Island below, Jack Sparrow receives an actual black spot from Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
- The old guy in the beginning of Muppet Treasure Island gets one of these delivered to him right before he dies.
- Subverted/spoofed later on with Long John. He points out that it was written on the page of the Bible and scares his crew into releasing him and reappointing him as captain.
- The Trope Namer is Treasure Island, when the old sea-dog is "tipped the Black Spot". Subverted when he dies of a heart attack straight after he's given it.
- Subsequently, Long John Silver himself is black-spotted twice: once "off-screen" when the ship arrives at the island and the pirates are eager for action at once, and later when they decide they want a new captain. The actual Spot ends up in Jim Hawkins's possession as a keepsake.
- Used in Sherlock Holmes a few times:
- "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" - The Black Spot is a cypher that reveals the intent only when it's decoded.
- "The Five Orange Pips" - The five orange pips are sent by the Ku Klux Klan, but since the recipients don't know that they fail to run and are killed.
- Heroes, when certain persons are marked for murder by Adam with their photo marked with the "Godsend" symbol.
- A variation occurs in the first season of Desperate Housewives. Mary Alice Young receives a note that says: "I know what you did. It makes me sick. I'm going to tell." No one else knows what it is, but Mary Alice knows one of her friends has discovered she murdered a woman and stole a baby. And now her whole life is about to come crashing down. She preempts any death threat, though, by taking her own life.
- Played with in the Doctor Who episode "The Curse of the Black Spot" (series 6, episode 3). Turns out it was a tissue sample, not a death note, and the "victims" weren't killed, they were brought to the sick bay of a space craft.
- In Would I Lie to You, Greg Davies revealed he used to plant an ominous drawing of an owl, called the Hoot Owl Death Sign in the pockets of his "deadly enemies."
- In The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, entry into the Dark Brotherhood begins when you pretend to be one of their assassins and perform a job in their stead. Upon completion, you receive a letter with nothing but a black handprint and "WE KNOW" printed on it. The next time you sleep, you're kidnapped and forced to use your intuition and deductive abilities to determine which of three people tied up in front of you deserves to die. Or kill the test giver and take her key.
- Spoofed in Hark! A Vagrant here (second comic), where a group of gangsters give a man the Black Spot, to which he responds "You've mixed up genres."