In olden times the Zebra lived in the forest and was dreadfully afraid of the open plain. His timidity made life inconvenient for him, because as everyone knows Zebras are supposed to eat grass, and grass is not found in great quantities in the forest. The poor Zebra came to the edge of the forest every morning and stuck his head out just far enough to nibble at the grass beyond the trees, but each morning the grass was farther away, and the Zebra had to stick his head out farther, until this nearly became the story of How the Giraffe Got His Neck, but we have already heard that one.

Eventually his friend the Albatross persuaded him to see a therapist. We are not quite sure why the Zebra had a friend who was an Albatross, but we are not going to waste time at present trying to come up with a hypothesis to account for it. So the Zebra went to see the Gorilla, who operated a therapy parlor with a sideline in tattoos, and asked for a couple of pounds of therapy.

“We are having a special today,” said the Gorilla. “If you buy three pounds of therapy, we will include a full-body tattoo of your choice absolutely free.”

“I don’t really want a tattoo,” said the Zebra.

“Well, you have to take it,” said the Gorilla. “It’s today’s special. You can’t leave without a tattoo.”

“Isn’t that kidnapping or something?”

“No. It is the rule of the house, and if you disobey the rule of the house, we must send you to prison.”

“I didn’t know we had prisons in the forest,” the Zebra said.

“Well, technically we don’t. So we just dress you up in the convict suit and rely on your sense of honor to keep you confined to one place, more or less. Within reason.”

“I think I’d look pretty silly in a convict suit.”

“Then I’d recommend getting the tattoo. It’s your only option. Besides, I’ve been itching to finish the tattoo I started on the Okapi before he up and ran away from me.”

“And what if I up and run away from you, too?” asked the Zebra.

“You can’t. I locked the door.”

“I didn’t know we had doors in the forest.”

“You should pay more attention to your surroundings. And now, Zebra, for your therapy session. You’ve got agoraphobia, and you should snap out of it. Now for the tattoo…”

Suddenly there was a voice from the doorway: “What’s all this, then?”

“Inspector African Striped Squirrel!” cried the Gorilla. “I thought I locked that door!”

“We don’t have doors in the forest,” said the Squirrel. “Has this Gorilla character been bothering you, Mr. Zebra?”

“He says I can’t leave unless he gives me a tattoo,” said the Zebra, “and I don’t want a tattoo.”

“Aha!” said Inspector Squirrel. “The old can’t-leave-without-a-tattoo scam! Why, I’ve been trying to catch him red-handed for years, but you did it in one afternoon! Good work, Zebra! How would you like to be a sergeant in the African Forest Constabulary Service?”

So the Zebra took up his new position, and that is the story of How the Zebra Got His Stripes. And incidentally his new job gave him the right to be arrogant and boss people around and act like he owned the forest, so he gained confidence and lost his old agoraphobia and went out into the plains any time he was hungry.