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Maybe the protagonist is nearing their lowest mental ebb, maybe it's his turn to hold the Idiot Ball, or maybe things are going just a little too well. Suddenly, they're confronted by the person they last expected to see: a friend or loved one who logic dictates should be very far away right now or -- just to underscore how unlikely this sudden reappearance is -- dead. It's clear to the audience that the vision is some sort of trap and that he isn't really Back From the Dead, but the character for whatever reason refuses to connect the dots.
This "visitation," however, is not about to stick around and explain itself, lest its masquerade be uncovered. It might urge the protagonist to follow them with a siren song or a cryptic comment, but whatever happens, it'll turn on their heel and flee. The protagonist, overwhelmed with curiosity and emotion, abandons any sense of self-preservation and tears after it ... right into the kind of trouble that they'd have seen coming a mile away if they were thinking clearly.
An alternative variant occurs when the visitation is someone that the protagonist may not know personally; a lost child, a beautiful woman or whatever is needed to push the protagonist's buttons and have them hurtle into danger.
Even if the protagonist is in company, they usually will simply take off after the visitor because there's No Time to Explain. If the protagonist does stop long enough to tell someone else, the other person normally won't believe them ... and if the protagonist does somehow manage to raise a hunting party, they'll almost certainly get separated and then get into trouble.
Contrast with Spirit Advisor, both in helpfulness and in duration. Often uses a Woman in White or similarly mysterious figure to really grab the target's attention. A common way to weed out the guy who's Too Dumb to Live.
Anime & Manga
- Pokémon has several examples.
- "Abra and the Psychic Showdown" has our characters lost in the forest, where they are visited by Sabrina's "doll" persona. Attempting to find out who she is and how they can reach Saffron City, Ash pursues her through the fog-laden woods ... only to be led straight off of a cliff. Fortunately, his Pokémon are on hand to rescue him.
- Another episode from the same season has both Brock and James become instantly smitten with the Beautiful Ghost of Maiden's Peak. They're discovered the following morning, their bodies drained of energy. Double- subverted by James, who took the effort to cover himself in spirit charms and actively tried to stay put, but was physically dragged out of the building. It turns out the spirit charms were sold to him by the ghost, a mischievous Gastly.
- In the first season of Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon falls for this act twice in as many minutes.
- In Cardcaptor Sakura, the Illusion card shows people whatever they're thinking about, but it can also show them someone they love or miss and lead them to their doom.
- Inuyasha: Inuyasha nearly gets killed by a youkai disguised as his mother who has been dead since he was very young. If Kagome hadn't seen through the illusion and managed to convince Inuyasha that things weren't what they seemed to be, he would have died.
- At several points in Silent Hill, Rose is spurred further into the obviously treacherous town by fleeting sightings of Alessa, who looks identical to her missing daughter Sharon. Somewhat averted near the end in that Rose is forced to cross a pile of fallen masonry over a very long drop into a burning coal fire -- or something worse burning down below -- but makes it across safely.
- Ghost Ship is full of these, the most infamous being a scene where one of the mercenaries is exploring the ship's ballroom, only to lured away by a seductive visage of the ship's lounge singer. Straight into an elevator shaft.
- In the live action Masters of the Universe movie, the non-Eternian POV character's girlfriend (played by Courtney Cox!) immediately accepts her dead mother turning in the middle of a siege by magic aliens from another dimension to lure her out the back door of the shop in which she and her friends are holed up defending a powerful alien artifact. Moments later, she accepts that her dead mother needs her to hand over said artifact. Needless to say, it's not really her dead mother.
- In Don't Look Now, a father thinks he is seeing the spirit of his dead daughter and tries to track her down throughout the film. When he finally tracks down the hooded figure it turns out to be the serial killer mentioned on the radio earlier.
- The will-o'the-wisp, in Celtic folklore, is a ghost which supposedly drowns people walking in swamps at night by walking over deep water so people think it's shallow.
- Russian folklore tells of a fairy which lures people away from paths in the forest by sounding like a person.
Live Action TV
- The main plot of the Outer Limits episode "If These Walls Could Talk" concerns a house "infected" by an alien substance. Not only does the house absorb people into its structure, it's able to regurgitate Doppelgangers of those people to lure in their friends and loved ones when they come searching for answers.
- The Doctor Who episode "The Lodger" features random passers-by lured into a two-flat by various poorly-lit characters, with much screaming and electrocuting as the result. The flat is a space ship searching for a compatible pilot, using images of humans in distress to lure people in and compel them to take control of the craft, usually with grisly consequences.
- Lost is replete with examples, starting in the pilot with visions of Jack's father. While the apparitions always require the character to do incredibly ill-considered and dangerous things (such as climbing treacherous rock faces, stealing babies or attacking each other), doing what the spirit says is often beneficial in the long run.
- The Red Dwarf episode "Psirens" is one long exploration of this trope: the Psirens are able to read the minds of their prey and create a personalized hallucination to lure them to their doom. Lister, for instance, sees an image of his beloved Kochanski and their two sons in mortal danger on the planetoid below. Kryten recognizes the Psiren as such but is unable to disobey his programming when the Psiren imitates his creator and orders him to climb into the waste disposal unit.
- Star Trek is full of these.
- In the Next Generation episode "Interface", Geordi LaForge is directly manipulating an experimental probe by means of his ocular implants. While exploring a downed vessel, the Raman, Geordi encounters a vision of his mother, who urges him to bring the vessel's wreckage deeper into the atmosphere.
- In "Eye of the Beholder", both Deanna Troi and a crewman relive a telepath's buried memories embedded into a portion of the Enterprise during its construction. Both attempt suicide following the discovery of their lover's infidelity, in accordance with the memory. The crewman succeeds, but Troi is saved by timely intervention from Worf.
- In the Voyager episode "Coda", Kathryn Janeway experiences several disturbing "deaths" before finally encountering a vision of her father. Admiral Janeway informs Kathryn that she's dead, and he's here to accompany her to the next life via a tunnel of light. While she nearly follows the spirit, Janeway's desire to stay with her crew turns to increasing suspicion of her "father" and his motivations, who is revealed to be a hostile alien that feeds on the consciousness of any mortally-wounded life form by luring it into its lair.
- In Lexx, a gift from an alien species causes each member of the crew to experience hallucinations designed to evoke jealousy. Stanley discovers Xev and Kai together in bed, while Xev stumbles upon Stan and Kai in the same position. Enraged, they come within seconds of murdering each other before the real Kai intervenes.
- * In Rose Red, the ghost of Sukeena lures the professor into the woods, where he's killed by his insane intern.
- Played for laughs in the Discworld novel Going Postal. The Ankh-Morpork Post Office wraps unsuspecting postmasters entirely in a beguiling vision of the building's opulent past. Unfortunately for them, this includes images of floors and walkways that have long since rotted away. Moist von Lipvig nearly takes a very long tumble stepping onto a balcony that had long ago ceased to be.
- Gorlim in The Silmarillion refuses to believe that his wife Eilinel, who went missing during Gorlim's absence in the war against Morgoth, is dead. Sauron uses this belief against Gorlim by creating a vision of Eilinel as bait inside Gorlim's house. Gorlim enters and is immediately captured by Sauron's orcs, and eventually tortured into revealing the location of Barahir.
- Deltora Quest has one extended over three books, and on the other end of a magic crystal for long-distance communication. An illusion created by the Big Bad pretends to be Jasmine's (nonexistent) sister, enslaved in the Shadow Land. It persuades Jasmine to break from the other heroes to go to the Shadow Land on her own to rescue it.
- This is the basic principle by which a Darke Domaine in Septimus Heap works: By creating an illusion that one of your loved ones is there, inside the Domaine.
- The Dungeons and Dragons 3.5E free adventure "Test of the Demonweb" features an elf child being webbed up by three giant spiders. The child is an illusion; the spiders are not.
- In the final chapter of Super Paper Mario, this is parodied, as the shapeshifter Mimi appears before you disguised as Merlon and Merlee, both of which are so ridiculously obvious that if you keep talking to her, she'll lampshade the Stupidity Is the Only Option of this situation, as Mario falling for her extremely obvious trap is the only way to progress.
- In the Circle Tower quest of Dragon Age Origins, each companion who you bring with you is trapped in a personalised dream. It's only because you break out of yours, by killing a dream-Duncan that you're able to rescue them. They wouldn't leave otherwise.
- Protip: It's worth rescuing them. They help you against the boss of the Circle Tower if you do.
- Final Fantasy XII toys with this trope. Both Vaan and Ashe see recurring silent visions of dead loved ones, apparently urging them to pursue the deifacted nethicite. Eventually, Vaan lets go of his anger over his brother's death and stops seeing him, while Ashe and the rest of the party discover later that the visions were just illusions sent to guide her to use the nethicite as a weapon, and not actually ghosts.