It was late afternoon by then, and the red sun was pressing on the mountains in the west. Still primed by all the wine he had consumed, Wu Song continued climbing the ridge. Before he had gone another half li he came upon a dilapidated Mountain Spirit Temple. A notice was posted on the door. It read:
Yanggu County Notice: Lately, a big tiger has been killing people on Jingyang Ridge. Although all township leaders, village chiefs and hunters have been ordered to capture the beast or be beaten, they have so far failed. Travelers are permitted to cross the ridge only between late morning and early afternoon, and only in bands. At other times, and to single travelers at any time, the ridge is closed, lest the tiger take their lives. Let this be known to all.
So there really was a tiger! The notice with its official seal confirmed that. Wu Song considered returning to the tavern. But then he said to himself: "If I do that, the host will laugh at me for a coward. I can't go back." He thought a moment. "What's there to be afraid of," he exclaimed. "Just keep climbing and see what happens."
He walked on. The warmth of the wine rose in him, and he pushed back the felt hat till it was hanging by the string on his shoulders. Clapping the staff under one arm, he plodded up the slope. When he looked back at the sun, it was almost gone. The days are short in late autumn, and the nights are long. It gets dark early. "There isn't any tiger," he said to himself. "People just scare themselves and don't dare come up the mountain."
The wine was burning inside him as he walked. With his staff in one hand, he unbuttoned his tunic with the other. His gait was unsteady now, and he staggered into a thicket. Before him was a large smooth rock. He rested his staff against it, clambered onto its flat surface, and prepared to sleep. Suddenly a wild gale blew, and when it passed a roar come from behind the thicket and out bounded a huge tiger. Its malevolent upward-slanting eyes gleamed beneath a broad white forehead. "Aiya'." cried Wu Song. He jumped down, seized his staff, and supped behind the rock. Both hungry and thirsty, the big animal clawed the ground with its front paws a couple of times, sprang high and came hurtling forward. The wine poured out of Wu Song in a cold sweat.
Quicker than it takes to say, he dodged, and the huge beast landed beyond him. Tigers can't see behind them, so as its front paws touched the ground it tried to side-swipe Wu Song with its body. Again he dodged, and the tiger missed. With a thunderous roar that shook the ridge, the animal slashed at Wu Song with its iron tail. Once more he swiveled out of the way. Now this tiger had three methods for getting its victim — spring, swipe and slash. But none of them had worked, and the beast's spirit diminished by half. Again it roared, and whirled around.
Wu Song raised his staff high in a two-handed grip and swung with all his might. There was a loud crackling, and a large branch, leaves and all, tumbled past his face. In his haste, he had struck an old tree instead of the tiger, snapping the staff in two and leaving him holding only the remaining half. Lashing itself into a roaring fury, the beast charged. Wu Song leaped back ten paces, and the tiger landed in front of him. He threw away the stump of his staff, seized the animal by the ruff and bore down. The tiger struggled frantically, but Wu Song was exerting all his strength, and wouldn't give an inch.
He kicked the beast in the face and eyes, again and again. The tiger roared, its wildly scrabbling claws pushing back two piles of yellow earth and digging a pit before it. Wu Song pressed the animal's muzzle into the pit, weakening it further. Still relentlessly clutching the beast by the ruff with his left hand, Wu Song freed his right, big as an iron mallet, and with all his might began to pound. After sixty or seventy blows the tiger, blood streaming from eyes, mouth, nose and ears, lay motionless, panting weakly.
Wu Song got up and searched around under the pine tree until he found the stump of his broken staff. With this he beat the animal till it breathed no more. Then he tossed the staff aside. "I'd better drag this dead tiger down the mountain," he thought. He tried to lift the beast, lying in a pool of blood, but couldn't move it. He was exhausted, the strength gone out of his hands and feet.
Wu Song sat down on the rock and rested. "It's nearly dark," he thought. "If another tiger comes I won't be able to fight it. I'd better get off this ridge first, somehow. Then, tomorrow morning, I can decide what to do." He collected his broad-brimmed felt hat from beside the rock, skirted the thicket, and slowly descended the ridge. Wu Song had traveled less than half a li when two tigers leaped out of the tall dry grass. "Ai'yo!" he exclaimed. "I'm a goner!" But there in the shadows the two tigers suddenly stood upright.