A man is strolling in the forest, contemplating the meaning of life, wondering what is might be, when he sees, bounding down the track towards him, an enormous tiger, with an even more enormous grin on its face, licking its chops.
Putting aside his contemplations, he hot-foots it in the other direction. As the tiger closes upon him, the track comes to an end at the edge of a cliff, and without pausing for reflection, lest he become a little light lunch, he launches himself into the void.
Fortuitously, he is able to grab hold of a vine, which brings him up short against the cliff face with a thump. The tiger is quite put out, and putting out its claws reaches down to where he hangs, grazing the top of his head.
Once he has regained his composure, he decides to look down, where he sees some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the bottom of the cliff is only a few feet below him. The bad news is that there is another tiger with is paws up the cliff, about to take a lunge at him. He pulls his legs up as far as he can, so that this tiger is only able to graze his feet.
While thinking to himself, thank God for the vine, two little mice, a black mouse and a white mouse, creep out of a hole and begin to gnaw at its root. He decides it is time to make a general appraisal of his situation, with a hungry tiger above grazing his head, a hungry tiger below grazing his feet, and two voracious mice making his hold on the cliff face increasingly tenuous, and he says to himself, another fine mess you got me into.
At this point, he notices, a short distance from him along the cliff face, where the warm sun breaks through the forest canopy, there is a strawberry bush. And on this strawberry bush there is the largest, reddest, juiciest strawberry he has ever seen. In his extremity, he reaches out, plucks the strawberry, and puts it into his mouth. Ah!, he says to himself in delight, absolutely delicious!
And that, he says to himself, that is … that is … where this story ends.
I have found Buddhist and Taoist versions of this story.
© David England, 2003