A/N: This was a funny story to write, and I hope you guys enjoy it!
Rheena Ulv had never really cared much for nature. It wasn‘t that she didn’t think that you needed to protect the environment or anything, but she had just never been the type to stop up and smell the flowers. She’d rather hang out with her friends, maybe catch a game of football, than she wanted to sit and enjoy the sunrise.
Which was why she surprised herself by deciding to take the route through the forest home from practice even though it was actually a bit longer. It was only eight at night, but being winter, the sun had set hours ago, and there was nothing to illuminate her way except the cold lights from the infrequent lampposts, broken more often than not.
It was uncommonly warm for December, and Rheena wondered if she, after all, perhaps should do this more often. The air was crisp and the forest peaceful.
At least until the peace was interrupted by someone’s swearing.
Rheena frowned. She’d never heard such a language outside her online video games, and unable to quench her curiosity she made her way towards the noise.
A man stood in a clearing consisting of bare dirt without a single straw of grass to bring a bit of colour. The oddest man Rheena had ever seen.
For one thing he was dressed in rags, which Rheena’s mother would have refused to let the cat lie on, patched so many times Rheena wasn’t sure if there was any of the original fabric left.
The man had wild hair and a full beard, both reaching to the middle of his chest. Neither of them appeared to have seen a comb for a decade of two. His hair was yellow. Not blond or even golden, but clear, bright, piss-coloured yellow.
He was small, hardly even five feet, and so thin his arms reminded Rheena of dry twigs. Arms, which the man was currently swinging in fury, hands fisted, as he cursed everyone and everything to damnation.
Behind the man was a small fire burning and what appeared to be a construction made out of straw. Rheena looked closer.
The man was building a house of straw.
Not sure why Rheena suddenly couldn’t withhold a giggle. She never giggled, but she couldn’t help herself at the sight of the comical man and his house of straw.
The man spun around at the sound of her.
Rheena wanted to apologise – giggling surely hadn’t been the nice thing to do – but before she could say anything the man suddenly started to scream.
“Wolf!” He screamed.
“Wait, what?” There was no wolves in this neighbourhood. Or even in this country for that matter, but the man continued to scream nonetheless.
“Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!” He was pointing at her, screaming from the top of his lungs, and while Rheena could only stare at him in shock he turned on his heel, still screaming, and ran into the house of straw. The house of straw, which only had three walls and no door.
“You cannot harm me in here, Wolf!” The man screamed at her, looking through one of the many holes in the wall.
“I’m not a wolf!” Rheena said, feeling oddly insulted. She should leave. Nothing good could come from talking with a crazy man in the middle of the forest.
“You think that you can trick me, Wolf?!” The man screamed back at her, sounding triumphant. “You may look like a girl, you may sound like a girl, you may even smell like a girl, but I can recognize you for what you really are! A creature of the night! A hunter of prey! A wolf in the skin of a girl!”
Okay, he was definitely crazy.
Rheena let her sport bag fall to the ground and lifted both her hands in the universal sign of peace. “I’m sorry if I startled you,” she said. “I’ll leave right away.”
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving,” she murmured and had any intention to do so. At least until a spark from the camp fire flew a bit too long and hit the straw.
The very, very flammable straw.
Within what seemed like seconds half a wall was on fire, and Rheena screamed in fright. The man was in there. He’d burn alive.
“Come out!” she screamed at him. “Your house is on fire!”
“You think you can trick me, Wolf!” The man screamed back. “It may look like a fire, it may sound like a fire, it may – auch! – feel like a fire, but I know it’s just another of your low tricks! You cannot fool me!”
Was he going to stay inside the burning house of straw?!
“Damn it!” Rheena cursed, before she ran in after him. On the other side of the wall the man was frantically putting out the fire, which had gotten to his clothes. He looked up in shock at her entrance.
“How did you come in here?!” He asked. “Begone Wolf!”
Knowing she didn’t have the time to argue, Rheena merely took a firm hold in the man, ignoring his screaming and cursing.
“We’re getting out of here if you want it or not!” she hissed, dragging him with her. If he’d cooperated, they would’ve been out in seconds, but despite the man’s small stature, he was surprisingly strong and fought her with tooth and nail. Literally. He hit, scratched and even succeeded to bite her once, before they were out in safety.
Scared that the man would run back into the flames if she let go of him, Rheena refused to loosen her grasp on him. The man, in return, refused to stop fighting.
He cursed her, her family, ancestors and any children she may one day have, but despite her growing rage, Rheena refused to let go. She was a strong girl and held on until the house had burned to the ground, leaving nothing but a bit of ashes. Thank God the clearing had been bare. She didn’t even want to think about what would have happened if the fire had had a chance to spread.
Then, finally, she let go of the man. He stumbled and fell, clearly not having anticipated this sudden freedom. Then, within a couple of seconds, he was up and screaming again.
“Wolf!” he screamed at her, while simultaneously running away. “Wolf, Wolf, Wolf!”
And then he was gone, with nothing left of him but a bit of ashes and the faint echoes of his screams.
That had, without a doubt, been the oddest encounter of Rheena’s life.
She wasn’t sure how long she had stood there, staring into the air, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Finally she pulled herself together. It’d been weirder than weird, but with the exception of a bite mark, no one had gotten harmed, and her parents would surely be worried if she wasn’t home soon. There was really nothing to do but continue.
The next time she heard something, she braced herself. But this time there were no screaming and cursing. In fact it sounded like someone was… whistling.
Slowly making her way closer she found the source of the whistling in a clearing, not much different from the one she had just left behind.
The man in this clearing was, however, a little bit taller than the other one – Rheena would guess five foot two – and though thin, he had fat enough on him not to look like the wind might blow him away. His hair and beard – both shorter and a little less wild than the previous’ ones – were brown. The man was whistling a happy tune, while he was building a house out of… pencils.
Sure enough, there were thousand upon thousand of pencils in the clearing, which the man patiently glued together to form the walls of a house, almost finished.
She should probably just leave, but she was more curious than she’d ever been before and the man seemed kind. She decided to take a chance.
“Um, excuse me,” she said, stepping out into the clearing.
The man screamed at the sight of her and fled into the house.
“Wolf!” He screamed. “Wolf, Wolf!”
This was getting ridiculous. Had been so for a while in fact.
“I’m no wolf,” Rheena said, annoyed. “My name is Rheena and I merely wanted to ask you a question.”
“You think that disguise tricks me?! I’ll have you know that I have four ThDs! You need something more to trick me, Wolf!”
“I just wanted to know why you were building a house out of pencils.”
“They’re not pencils! They’re sticks! Now begone Wolf!”
Rheena sighed. “Well, if anything, at least your house is built better than the other one’s. For one thing yours actually has a door.”
“The other one’s? My brother?! You have killed my brother! I curse you, Wolf! Curse the day that you were born!”
“Wait, what?! No! I haven’t killed anyone!”
“Lies! My brother is dead, and you are his murderer!” The voice broke over, and suddenly the man was crying.
Rheena desperately wanted to leave, but at the same time she could hardly let the man believe his very much alive brother was dead.
She walked over to the house of pencils. “No, honest to God, I swear he’s not dead. His house burned down, but I got him out and –“
“You burned it down! So that’s how you tricked him! Devious Wolf! You found the weakness and it was fire!”
“Well, actually his house was built of straw. I’m pretty sure I could’ve just tipped it over.”
“But you will not conquer this house! I have been smarter than my brother and so I shall live!”
“No, seriously!” Rheena bend down and opened the little door made out of pencils. It wasn’t locked, though she did have to bend down in order to enter.
The man looked at her in horror.
“How?!” he gasped. “How?!”
“Um, well, the door was open.”
The man roared and attacked.
Rheena was more shocked than hurt when he barged into her. Not having a good footing she fell and hit the wall hard. Which immediately collapsed.
Later Rheena realised that though the man had used glue, it hadn’t been a particularly strong one. Nor had it had time to dry completely. The house fell like a house of cards, and when the last pencil had hit the ground Rheena and the man both stood – or in Rheena’s case sat – in a sea of pencils.
The man looked around on his broken house in horror. Then he gave a last scream and fled into the forest, leaving Rheena alone and buried in pencils.
How she regretted deciding to take the route through the forest.
The third time she heard something, she was determined to ignore it. This time it was Elvis Presley.
A fact which almost made her break her promise to herself to ignore whatever weird occurence happened next. Almost.
But she persevered and walked away from the noise.
Directly into a clearing with a house of bricks, which could have been taken directly out of Snow White. Complete with a little chimney with smoke coming out of it.
Low voices were coming from the house.
”Are you sure it’ll fall for it?” asked a voice, which Rheena recognised as the man with the house of pencils.
“Of course it will damn well fall for it!” responded the voice of the man with the house of straw. “It’ll hear the sound, which brother started and go in the wrong direction. It’s bloody stupid, that’s what it is.”
“Don’t underestimate it,” said a third voice Rheena didn’t recognise. “It was smart enough to ruin both your houses.”
They were talking about her, and what more was they were blaming her for what was their sheer stupidity!
Crouching down Rheena made her way to a small window with glass panels, making sure not to let anyone see her. Then, ever so slowly, she peeked in.
Three men sat around a small table. The third, unknown man was dressed in a set of blue overalls and was clean and well-groomed. His chestnut red hair and beard was short and trimmed, and though short, he was far more muscular than the other two men.
He looked brusque, but kind, but Rheena had already made that mistake with man number two. She remained hidden.
“You’ll be safe here,” the third man said. “Even if the Wolf does find us, it’ll never break down this house. It’s made of brick and can withstand both fire and ice.”
Rheena wondered sarcastically if he’d also remembered to lock the front door.
“But it’s far sneakier than any of us could have dreamed of!” said pencil-house man.
“Not sneakier than me,” answered the third man in a tone, which left no room for argument.
Rheena pushed her nails through the thin gap between window and wall, and pulled carefully. The window opened ever so slightly. They hadn’t locked the windows.
“It wasn’t that sneaky,” said the straw-house man. “The fact that it didn’t think we could see pass its bloody disguise! When it was so damn obvious! A hideous disguise indeed!”
Rheena bit her teeth together. Hideous, huh? How hideous would he find her when she barged into their house, oh so safe and sound?
She stood up and waited.
One second. Two seconds.
Then pencil-house man caught sight of her and screamed.
“Wolf!” he screamed, pointing at her.
The two other men cursed and got to their feet. The third man stepped forward and looked at her through the window.
“Begone Wolf!” he said in a far calmer tone than his brothers had used. “You have no power here. This is one house, which you cannot break down.”
Though she could open the window, she thought, and was about to say as much, when the third man continued. “We are safe here! Together and strong!”
Maybe it’d be better not to say anything. They clearly had some issues. Maybe it was better just to let them have their safety so to speak.
She sighed, and threw her hands out in resignation. “Indeed I can find no way in,” she said, trying her hardest to look like she actually meant it. She felt like she was in a theatre play.
Then she turned around, picked up her gym bag and walked away, leaving behind three men, who were celebrating loudly, and a window cracked open.
Three odd men indeed.