It was nearly noon and the sun had actually managed to peak through the thick clouds of smog that still surrounded the valley. Once-ler was taking advantage of the good weather and getting his next batch of samplings outside. He worked as quickly as he could, breaking up the dirt and planting trees, making sure the trees would be far enough apart to allow all of them the chance to grow tall.
After they were all in the ground he worked at keeping the grackle grass away from his make shift garden. As he yanked up the weeds he heard soft foot falls behind him. Thinking it was his secretary he waited for the sound of the glass jar clinking on his steps with the promise of more seeds. But there was no clinking of glass, just more footfalls and then something, someone, was nudging his leg.
"Yes? Can I help you?" he asked turning around and stopped short. It wasn't a person standing there, it was a bar-ba-loot. The biggest one Once-ler had ever seen, but after a moment he smiled as he recognized the large brown eyes, the light patch of fur on his chest, and the tuft of hair that sat on the top of his head.
"Not a little Pipsqueak anymore are you?" he asked, reaching out and stroking the bar-ba-loot's head softly. "But you shouldn't be here you know. These little things don't have any fruits for you to eat. I hope they will though." He hadn't had time to test all the variables. This strain of Truffula would fare better in the nutrient poor soil, and provide an anchor for rich top soil that he could use to plant the original trees later. But he didn't know if this new type of Truffula would over run their parents when the time came to plant the old seeds. He didn't know if this strain would give any fruit, if the tuffs would be the right thickness to support a Swami swan's nest.
His thoughts were cut off as his chest constricted. He covered his face with the thneed that he always kept around his neck and turned away from Pipsqueak as he coughed, but he could feel a soft paw rubbing his back. When it was over Once-ler went inside to get a drink of water.
He couldn't deny it anymore he realized as he stood by the sink. The attacks were getting longer and more frequent. Time was running out. Still, he thought morbidly, he was right all those years ago. The thneed was much better than towels at absorbing the blood.
He went back outside to the garden to see that Pipsqueak was gone. Sighing Once-ler crouched down and went back to digging.
"What's up with you, Pipsqueak? Thinking that just because you're the biggest one now you can boss everyone around!"
Pipsqueak just grunted in annoyance and pushed the Lorax onward.
"All right, all right, keep your suit on, I'm coming."
Grabbing the seat of his pants the Lorax lifted himself up into the sky, following the bar-ba-loot as he raced back across the landscape to the barren wasteland they had left behind.
What was there to see? The Lorax thought as he touched down. That the factory was still running? That the land was still bare save for tree stumps and a river that ran black? Okay the river was a dingy grey now, but that didn't matter the humming-fish still couldn't live in it.
Pipsqueak was still insistently pulling him along though. So the Lorax went with him silently and looked up at the house that was still there, tall and imposing. Where the man the Lorax had once considered a friend lived.
As he got closer to it the Lorax could see Truffulla saplings growing around the back door. Hmm maybe he was learning something after all. No the Lorax realized as he went over to the trees these weren't like the ones that had died. These ones had green, blue, and white tuffs on them. The bark was darker and the trunks thicker. It looked like the Once-ler was creating new colours for a whole new line of thneeds, well that was just great.
Pipsqueak was right he still had some speaking for the trees to do. Going around to the front of the house and reaching up as high as he could he pounded on the door.
"Once-ler, open up!"
There was no answer so Pipsqueak got underneath the Lorax and pushed up so he could reach the handle. They let themselves in and began looking for the house's owner.
The house wasn't very well cared for the Lorax thought as he walked along the dirt covered floors. It looked like Once-ler was too busy on some new project. There were papers stacked up on the kitchen table. Cups, bowls, and all manner of dishes had been stacked up in the sink and left. What looked like two or three of those thneeds were piled up by a door off of the kitchen, and they had dark red stains on them.
Just then Pipsqueak ran up to him, his eyes frantic, and started pushing him upstairs towards the bedroom.
"Found him did you?" the Lorax asked, as he pushed the bedroom door open and prepared to give his former friend a piece of his mind.
The Lorax gasped at what he found in the room. The Once-ler was asleep on the bed and he looked absolutely ghastly. He had been thin to begin with, but now his cheeks were sunken in. His hair was plastered to his face that was flushed with fever. The rest of his body was as white as his sheets. What was truly terrifying though was the deep wheezing sound he made as he inhaled. As if every breath was a fight to the death.
"Kid!" The Lorax cried out, and scrambled up onto the bed. "Come on, Once-ler, don't do this to me! Wake up! Wake up!"
The Lorax shook his shoulders and slowly Once-ler's eyes fluttered open. They were fever bright and they focused on the Lorax.
"Right, back to work. The forest won't grow on its own," Once-ler said, struggling to sit up
"No, no, you need to stay right where you are!"
Once-ler shook his head.
"Too little time left and I have-have to fix it
it's my fault."
He coughed and red droplets fell on the thneed around his neck. As he looked at it the Lorax realized what those stains on the other thneeds were and shuddered, how long had this been going on?
Despite continued protests from the Lorax Once-ler pushed himself off the bed. But then he swayed on his feet, stumbled forward and collapsed to the floor.