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In a city by the sea, there stood a long, thin house on a long, thin street, and by a long, thin window, Marya Morevna sat and wept in her work clothes, and did not look out into the leafy trees. The winter moon looked in at her, stroking her hair with a silver hand. She was sixteen years of age, with seventeen’s shadow hanging heavy on her every tear. Old enough to work after school, old enough to be tired in her joints and her heels, old enough to know that something irretrievable had passed her by. 

If she had looked out the window, she might have seen a great, hoary old black owl alight on the branch of the oak tree. She might have seen the owl lean perilously forward on his green-black branch and, without taking his gaze from her window, fall hard—thump, bash!—onto the streetside. She would have seen the bird bounce up, and when he righted himself, become a handsome young man in a handsome black coat, his dark hair curly and thick, flecked with silver, his mouth half-smiling, as if anticipating a terribly sweet thing. 

But Marya Morevna saw none of this. She only heard the knock at the great cherrywood door, and rushed to answer it before her mother could wake. She stood there in her factory overalls, her face turned bloodless by moonlight, and the man looked down at her, for he was quite tall. Slowly, without taking his eyes from hers, the man in the black coat knelt before her. 

“I am Comrade Koschei, surnamed Bessmertny,” he said with a low, churning voice, “and I have come for the girl in the window.”