The bald man with a birthmark on his forehead was pouring sweat like the sky was bleeding down rain when he grabbed Riley Cunningham by the arm and shoved a brown paper-bag into his hands.

"Take it, just take it, please," The man focused his wide, panicked eyes on Riley, and ran a thick hand over his head as if to comb back the hair that had long since abandoned him. Riley looked at the man with a mix of shock and anger as he stood there on the corner of the street holding a black umbrella, the rhythmic beat of the rain pelting it, running off, and spilling onto the crazy owner of the enigmatic bag Riley now possessed.

"I'm sorry, but I don't want this." He held it back out, but it was shoved back at him violently.

"No! Please, keep it… but don't open it. Not in the daylight. Never in the light. In the dark—that's when." The man had begun shuffling backwards and the quickly passing pedestrians bumped him roughly from both sides.

"The hell, wait!" Riley followed, all thoughts of the business meeting he was already late for slipping from his mind. But the man had whipped around and his awkward backwards shuffle had turned into an all-out sprint, pushing through the crowds like a mugger fleeing from the police. The sea of umbrellas consumed him.

A deep sigh parted Riley's lips and he looked long and hard at the tattered bag, mulling over what had just happened—strangest damn thing he'd ever witnessed, and living in Atlanta, Georgia, he'd seen a lot.

Whatever was in the bag wasn't good Riley mused. Probably drugs—the man had crazy, dope-head eyes and maybe the police were after him. And if they found Riley holding the bag, it wouldn't be good. Conspiracy theories flying through his head, he walked briskly to a banged up trashcan and tossed the unwanted gift inside.

A peal of thunder shook the city and somewhere nearby a car blared its horn and held it for a good ten seconds, and then a minute after that Riley was, for some reason, still standing there, peering down into the canister that reeked of half-eaten hamburgers and cigarette ash. Like a homeless man going Christmas shopping, he stuck his hand into the garbage and reclaimed the bag. Another round of thunder clamored in the sagging sky, and Riley jumped; a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"Okay Riley, you are the biggest idiot. Throw the stinking bag away." He was talking to himself, warranting a few quirked brows thrown in his direction. But he couldn't—he was magnetized, under some spell cast by a middle-aged, fat sorcerer with a paper-bag of tricks.

"You gonna open it or what, mister?"

Riley whirled around to face a little girl, all dressed up like she was ready to go to church. A pink dress hung from her tiny frame and a matching ribbon was nestled in her curly, brown locks, and the rain seemed to think she wasn't there. It fell all over the city, washing away the sins of the day, but for this little girl it stopped.

Riley rubbed his eyes, blinked, then looked again, but the girl who could walk through rain was still there.

"Who—who are you?" He asked, sure that he had somehow fallen into a crack between reality and fiction, pinned there with no obvious way to escape.

The girl grinned at him, the epitome of innocence, and shook her curly hair from side-to-side, "Guess you've followed the rules so far. Keep it up mister, and you just might win…" she bit her lip, "Though I must admit, it's ever so much more fun when they lose."

Then she was gone, and the rain filled in the small spot of dry concrete where she had stood.

There weren't many reasons Riley had ever missed work—a few sick days and a few vacations back when he'd been married and had more to live for than just the hours between nine to five. Yet today he'd walked home and sat in his dim apartment beside the window, staring at water trickling down the glass and then at the bag, back and forth, not sure what the hell was wrong with him.

The surreal quality of the day had washed over everything. It had stained all things normal with a blotch of absurdity, and Riley, usually so calm and collected, had given himself over to a feeling of encroaching insanity. This was something to fill the pages of comic books or to light up the silver screen, but he was undeniably knee-deep and steadily drowning in this confusing mystery; A bag that made him weak in the knees and unable to think straight and a little girl who defied the laws of physics. Weird shit. Those were the only two words able to penetrate the swirling chaos of Riley's mind.

It wasn't dark yet, though the mournful, gray clouds had deprived the day of any real sunlight.

He couldn't wait—the urge to rip open the bag and see what was inside was tearing at him mercilessly, and until this mystery was over he was sure his mind would just keep wandering back to the bag and its magical contents.

So, with anxious, trembling hands, he unfolded it and pulled it open ravenous, hungry eyes diving inside…

Riley stepped out onto the street and began to cross when headlights blinded him and the cold, metal of a car's bumper crashed into his body. He fell to the ground with a wet thud. Darkness, a void that seemed to last an eternity, pierced by frantic whispers. And something shook the peace of the blackness, and he knew he was dying.

Then light came crashing back in, banishing its enemy the darkness, and Riley saw a woman bundled up in a red coat getting into a taxi. She was heading to see her mother who was ill, but in spite of it she was laughing and carrying on with the driver. She showed him her engagement ring and even a picture of the lucky man that would soon be her husband. In return, the man pulled into an alley and slit her throat. Her blood merged effortlessly with the vibrant red of her coat, and the man burned rubber as he peeled away, the diamonds on her ring glistening enchantingly on his dashboard.

It all hit Riley like a two-by-four over the head, and he fell back in his seat, breathless. The visions had ceased and the bag was empty, its contents existing now only in his fragile mind. A hand was cupped over his mouth, and he felt his heavy, warm breath on it.

"They always lose."

The scream his hand had been trying futilely to keep in escaped and Riley jumped out of the chair, disturbed blue eyes falling onto the girl.

"What are you?" He asked this time, an accusing finger pointed at her. She just giggled.

"He told you to wait 'til dark." She padded over to the window and peered out over the windowsill, "This could have all been over then. But no, you just couldn't wait." She was barely tall enough to look through the glass, and she had risen up on the tips of her toes just to be able to. Her doll-like chin was propped between her hands; "Don't feel bad though, that's how it always goes. No one can wait."

He looked down at the bag that now looked as normal as any other old piece of trash and crumpled it up in his hand and threw it at the wall, a feral cry ripping from his lungs.

"And poor Martin."

Riley looked at the girl from under bushy brows, "Martin?"

"Yes," she turned back to him and met his gaze with eyes that feigned purity, "The funny man who handed you the bag. He was hoping you wouldn't open the bag—so he could get that big promotion at work. And, oh yes, he had his first date in three years tonight. He'd really had success with that online dating stuff." She smiled.

"Why the hell can't he do that now?" Riley felt like strangling the strange girl, but he had a strange feeling his hands would pass right through her.

"Because. You opened the bag. Now he's dead." She shrugged her shoulders and twirled a curly strand of hair around her small, delicate finger, "And to think, all you had to do was follow one simple rule."

"Damnit. This isn't real." Riley raked his hands through his hair, pulling it hard so that a wave of pain passed through him, and he knew at least that he wasn't dreaming. But if not a dream, then what?

"Now let's play some more, Mister." The girl walked closer to him, never shifting her gaze from him, "Could you live with yourself if that poor woman died?"

"The one in the red coat?"

"Yes, the very one." The girl bent down and picked up the wadded up brown paper and gently stretched it back out and re-folded it, "Then you must give this to her." She held it out for him to take, and, reluctantly, he did.

"And if I do, I'll be okay? This will all just," he paused, "Go away?"

The girl clapped a hand over her pretty, little mouth and threw her head back in laughter, "Haha, they all ask that. Poor Martin—he was even more worried than you, I think." She finally regained her composure, "I told him, like I'll tell you, that you will be fine as long as your lady in red follows the rule."

"Don't open it in the light…" Riley said in a hoarse whisper, his voice raw and shaky.

"You're a quick learner, Mister."

"I don't understand. What is all of this? Some never-ending cycle? Some twisted game? I still don't know who or what you are." His mind was overflowing, bubbling over with questions that seemed to have no answers.

"No more questions. You better get moving." She tucked a misplaced hair behind her ear, "You'll find her walking beneath your feet."

"Beneath my—" She was gone before he could finish, and he fell back into the chair with a weary expression reigning over his face. His mind was caving in—no, his entire world was spinning around in a blender just so that little girl could have a smoothie.

"Beneath my feet," He thought out loud, taking a stab at unwrapping this riddle. It wasn't until morning that he awoke with a start, grabbed his coat, and flew out the door and onto the slick city streets. The rain having fallen the day before, a sticky humidity had befallen the city and everyone on the streets seemed to be even more miserable. The pedestrians were ruder and the drivers were reckless.

Riley arrived at the Atlanta Underground just as the sun had relieved the moon of its duty, though the exchange went unseen behind a still thick sheet of clouds. He descended down the long flight of stairs and plunged into the crowd. If Bigfoot himself had been waltzing around in a tutu reciting Shakespearean sonnets, Riley probably wouldn't have noticed. His eyes were searching frantically for one thing and one thing only; a bright, red coat.

He'd come here once with his wife and his daughter. They'd had lunch and Riley had bought his little Chelsea her first purse. Now, two years later, that was just a memory and he would never see them again. Life was a lot of things, but fair wasn't one of them.

There—outside a jewelry store the woman in red stood peering through the window at the multitude of sparkling rings. Her face was pressed almost to the glass like a child outside a candy store, and then she looked around as if searching for someone.

Riley broke into a run, and even before he reached her he could see fear in her eyes. He was the fat, bald man with the enormous birthmark to her. He came to a stop in front of her and he saw her pretty, red lips quivering.

"I need you to take this bag. Please." He thrust it toward her and she let out a cry, "No, shh, please!" He grabbed her petite hand, pale white in comparison to the brightness of her coat, and forced her to take the bag, "Take it. But listen to me, don't open it in the daylight. Wait until night. Please." He heard the terror in his own voice, and it scared him to death, even more so than the effect he had on the poor woman, who by now had become even paler, if that was possible.

He backed away, but she made no attempt to follow. He ran anyway. Ran until he found himself collapsed on a park bench that doubled as a toilet for the city's bird population. And he waited.

Riley turned off the lights in his office, grabbed his briefcase, and bolted out the door.

"See you tomorrow, Ri." Sylvia Plith smiled at him and offered a wave. He returned it with a smile and a nod of his head as he slid out of the air-conditioned office and into the heat-stroke inducing weather outside.

He'd worked overtime, as usual, and if he didn't get home soon and get ready, he'd be late for his date. Luckily he was already decked out in a nice shirt and a tie, so with a little splash of cologne and a fresh application of deodorant, he'd be ready to go.

Then it started to rain.

Not armed with an umbrella and already halfway home, Riley started to jog down the sidewalk. Now he was definitely going to be late.

Whenever he reached the street-crossing where he'd found the paper bag, the memory of that day always came rushing back to him like a bad dream, and today as he passed, with the rain falling, he felt a keen sense of déjà vu.

It had been almost a year now and he was still alive and well and, surprisingly, better than he had been in a long time. He rarely thought of that day anymore—though now and then, like now, he found himself reliving the events. He sometimes wandered about things. Like if it had been real. Those types of silly questions.

An little bout of laughter rose from him as the light changed and the people began to move again.

Riley stepped out onto the street and began to cross when headlights blinded him and the cold, metal of a car's bumper crashed into his body. He fell to the ground with a wet thud. Darkness, a void that seemed to last an eternity, pierced by frantic whispers. And something shook the peace of the blackness, and he knew he was dying.

This time, however, the light did not follow.