Another year passed. December crept on us too swiftly. I ran one hand over the other, passing over the knotted flesh of X-shaped scars where they had cut.

We communicated by chat service the day before. I had moved away, hoping to escape.

"It's my birthday again."

I cried, where he couldn't see me, many miles away.

The next day came. I couldn't sleep. The day went on. I couldn't eat.

Night fell. I began to panic. I knew the day wouldn't end without an emissary from the witch.

I called my mother and sobbed to her my fears, but it didn't seem she believed me. But I knew, I knew.

I went through the house, closing every curtain, locking every window and door in what I knew was ultimately a vain gesture. The witch's minions would laugh at my feeble fortress. I cursed my many windows; why did my house have to have so many windows?

And standing before each one to close the curtain, terror squeezed my heart. I felt so vulnerable in front of the darkness beyond. I knew with growing dread the next one would have her there, standing there and staring me down. I knew what she looked like; I had seen her in my head before. Tall and proud and deadly and feral, dressed in autumn-browns and woven feathers and clawed gloves, bared shoulders and black eyes that turned red in the dark.

She did not appear. Not yet.

Every curtain closed, every lock locked, I returned to my room. I hung up the phone; I had cried the whole way, my mother long-suffering, but not comforting. She just listened, like one listens to a wailing child after a nightmare. She didn't know. She hadn't seen.

I laid back on my bed. From everywhere in the house, I could be seen from outside. Too many windows, too many. The curtains didn't matter. I might as well have left them open. I could still be seen. I tried to crawl on the floor but I felt them watching, it didn't matter.

I cried while I had time, and waited.