In a certain village in China there lived three lazy brothers who were well known for telling strange stories.
One day a rich merchant came to the village. He wanted to hire some men to carry his merchandise to the next village, but there was no one available except the three lazy brothers.
The merchant told the three brothers, “I will give you all of my merchandise if you can tell me stories so strange that I cannot believe them.” Then he added, “But if I can tell you a story so strange that you don’t believe it, you must become my servants.”
The three brothers were delighted at the merchant’s proposal. They thought it would be easy to win his merchandise with their own stories that nobody had ever believed.
The whole village was invited to the unusual story-telling contest, and the village headman was appointed to be chief judge.
The eldest brother told his story first. “When I was young,” he began, “I loved climbing trees. One day I climbed a tree so tall that I could not get down. I called, but no one came to my rescue. At last I jumped down and borrowed a ladder from my neighbor and climbed down from the tree safely.”
The three brothers expected the merchant to say the story could not be true, but he just nodded his head.
The second brother told his story. “One day I was fishing in a river, and for many hours there was not a single bite. I knew something was wrong. So I dove into the river, and to my surprise I found a large fish eating up all the other fishes. I was so angry that I caught the large fish. Then I made a fire under the water and had a delicious meal before coming up to the surface of the river.”
Again the merchant just nodded his head but said nothing.
The third brother began his story. “I was such a good runner that I could outrun any animal in the forest. If I wanted a deer for dinner, I had only to chase one until it was too tired to run anymore. One day I was chasing a fox up a hill when suddenly it ran into a bush and changed itself into a tiger. It turned to attack me, but before it could lift up its paws, I had run home.”
The merchant nodded his head again, which meant he believed all the stories to be true. Turning to the three brothers, he asked, “Do you still promise to be my servants if you don’t believe the story I’m going to tell?”
“Yes, we do,” they replied.
Then the merchant told his story. “I was once a farmer and had a strange tree on my farm. The tree had only a few barren branches but no leaves. One day I noticed that three fruits appeared on the branches. The fruits grew bigger and bigger until each was about the size of a barrel. I cut the fruits open and found a young man in each of them. I made them all work for me on the farm. But one day the young men ran away because they didn’t like the hard work.”
At this point the merchant pointed his finger at the three brothers and said, “I know you are the ones who ran away from my farm. I’m taking you back to the farm today.”
At once the three lazy brothers jumped up and cried, “No, no, we are not from your farm! We don’t believe your story!”
The merchant looked at them and smiled. “Have you forgotten your promise? You don’t believe my story; therefore you shall be my servants.”
The chief judge declared that the merchant had won the contest, and the three lazy brothers became servants of the merchant.