THNEEDS SOLD: 5268882…
If anyone would ask the Lorax what does the hunger feel like, the forest guardian wouldn’t even find a right answer. Living in the Truffula Valley for ages, he had never known it.
Even if the harvest was less plentiful than usual, he always could lay down on the grass, soaking in the life-giving sunlight, - the usual spare way for the forest spirits to replenish their powers. Easy thing to do, if only… If only at least one sunbeam could make its way through all the smogulous smog that was hanging over the former forest.
He got deprived of even that. And worst of all, he didn’t even know what had he done to deserve it.
More and more trees falling.
More and more animals to be saved.
And no time to think about himself.
It wasn’t that usual, everyday “I’m stAHrving!” feeling which comes just when you’re about to reach out and take whatever you wish. More like two invisible braces - one on his throat, the other squeezing the stomach, - both almost unnoticeable at first. Better not to think of them at all while you can, the Lorax said to himself, - it isn’t over till you still have your paws and heart. That’s where the magic power of any forest guardian is stored.
“Survival of the fittest”, they say – but then why were the wheezes and groans of his sick neighbors echoing so painfully in his own chest? He couldn’t refuse helping them, healing whoever needed it, - for a spirit it was just the same as breathing. But with the giant factory towering over their valley and devouring it day by day, it was more and more harder to both help and breathe.
Thank heavens, the older animals, starting to notice his state, could keep more or less calm and not panic. Panicking was the last thing they needed – after all, the Lorax still hoped that his former friend hadn’t completely forgotten of the world outside his Thneed factory.
But with the four kids he’d been babysitting for long it wasn’t that easy.
Luckily, neither Pipsqueak – the smallest of Bar-ba-loot bears, nor Billy Cross-Eyes – the youngest of the Swomee-Swans, nor the Humming Fish twins – Finn and Gil – had fallen ill yet. For all four, the Lorax still looked same as before, - big and wise, soft and fuzzy, always caring. All four couldn’t even imagine that something bad may ever happen to him.
A little was enough to make these kids feel home again: close their eyes and snuggle up to the forest guardian for a nap. Someone of them might sometimes wake up, startled by a low growl – which might be only an echo of the mechanical Super-Axe-Hackers crawling nearby…
-don’t think of-
-oh dear, now they’re hearing this-
...but only Pipsqueak, with his sharp hearing, remembered that the sound was too grumbly for a machine.
And it was exactly him who, by an accident, revealed the terrible secret.
It took the Lorax a few moments to realize that the scream was his own. Finally little stars of pain before his eyes faded, then disappeared. Lorax slowly sat up – one paw still clutching the belly – and opened his eyes. No wound. Good. And… what’s wrong with them?!
The Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Swomee-Swans and the Humming Fish all crowded around the forest spirit, gazing at him with fear. And among the whole crowd, Lorax could see Pipsqueak peeking out from behind his big brother’s back and trembling.
So that’s what happened, he thought. Poor kid might simply get bored while all the big ones were busy, and wanted to play – like before. He pounced at the sleeping forest guardian – also just like before, - surely not expecting that, instead of an usual snort of surprise followed by a joking “gotcha!”, the Lorax will yelp in pain. Because to the Lorax, this pounce hurt like he got chopped in half.
And now all of the animals were staring at him with part fear, part disbelief. The horrible truth finally got revealed: having completely forgotten of himself, with little magic left, the protector of the Truffula Valley was now as weak as a cub – and a starving one at that.
Pipsqueak shyly stepped out of the crowd, walked up to the Lorax, buried his face into the orange fluffy side and stroked the aching spot, apologising.
“Missin’ the ol’times, eh, pal?” – The forest guardian scratched the little bear behind an ear and tried to smile. – “Me too. Erm… No hard feelings, ‘kay?”
Pipsqueak squeaked something, which meant he agreed. But the anxiety in the others’ eyes still didn’t disappear.
All right. Now that they know it… It’s time.
“All right”, repeated the Lorax aloud to calm down the crowd (or himself?), got up and raised a paw. – “Quiet. ‘M already okay, stop panicking.” – He gulped, then paused a second. –“Guess it’s time t’ go n’talk it over with Beanpole… once again.”
It already didn’t seem a good idea to climb up the stairs to the main office of the factory, - but at least not as bad as asking a Swomee-Swan to help. The last thing the Lorax wanted is to crash-land and turn both himself and the swan into flat panc-
-hurts!- Couldn’t find a better time t’think about it, stupid?!
The forest guardian leaned against a cold wall, not moving until the blackness before his eyes faded, and kept on climbing. Finally, a familiar ticking sound reached his ears. The counter over the Once-ler’s office. Counting the already sold Thneeds.
The Lorax sighed with relief as his body started soaking in the pale light coming from the office window. Sure, to him pale electric light was like old stale water to a human, but when there’s not much else...
For some time, Lorax was just sitting on the balcony railing, fatigued by a long climb and not able to get his thoughts together. In the depth of the office he could barely see a lanky slihouette in a chair, bent over a plastic model of a town. His former friend.
“So how’re things?”
The familiar gruffy voice made the Once-ler wince. He turned around. Yes, that orange furball on his balcony was real too.
“Wh-what are you doing here?..” – asked the inventor, both surprised and irritated by an unexpected visitor.
“Happy yet?” – The Lorax glanced at him. – “Filled that hole deep down inside you…
-gosh, anything to fill the one in me-
-the magic, must not waste the magic-
…or do you still need more?..”
“Got a problem with what I’m doing?” – The Once-ler straightened up – lanky and tall, in fact like a living beanpole. – “Then why don’t you just use your, quote unquote, powers to stop me?”
“I told ya, that’s not how it works.”
The forest spirit couldn’t believe his own eyes. His former human friend hadn’t changed much on the outside, except for a posh green outfit instead of an old grey-and-white one. Yet something broke in the Once-ler since the day people started to buy his Thneeds. But when did the Lorax miss it? When it was too late to fix it? He couldn’t remember.
It can’t be, he thought, the guy can’t be completely deaf to us.
“Right!” – suddenly snapped the inventor. – “I’ve forgot, you’re a fraud!” – He pointed at the door. –“I need you to get out. Now!”
“Why?” – The Lorax hopped off the railing. – “Do I make you uncomfortable? Remind you the promises you made? The man you used to be?”
At first he didn’t believe his own eyes – suddenly, the Once-ler’s face got weird. As if a predator, a beast with an icy cold glare, peeked out from under an innocently looking mask. No, it must be just the Lorax’s own hunger. He’s just seeing things. Just seeing-
“You know what?” – Once-ler clenched his fists. – “You can just. Shut. Your. Moustache!”
…it can’t be, he’s in fact got deaf even to me; what is he doing – what’s that – the slippery metallic stairs beneath the paws – must not fall – head splitting from the Once-ler’s shouts and the working machinery – I can’t believe it, Beanpole, what had your done to yourself – what had we done to you? – and his face, what’s wrong with his face? Where from are these sharp teeth – no, I must be seeing things, I’m only seeing things, of course I do – the gloating glimmer in his eyes, the sinister grin? So the Once-ler now laughs at the others’ hunger, at his own former friend being at the edge of- yeowch!
The Lorax slipped on the last stair, falling onto the ground.
“…and nothing is going to stop me!” – finished the Once-ler, towering over the defenseless forest guard.
The counter stopped.
The last Truffula Tree fell down.
“That’s it”, whispered the Lorax. – “The very last one. That may stop you.”
Now, with the whole Thneed factory stopped, this whisper sounded for the Once-ler louder and worse than any scream.
And only now, staring in disbelief at the destroyed valley, the inventor saw the whole horror he’d caused – caused with his own hands.
It hurt even more than being woken by a pounce. More than his former friend’s shrieks ringing in his ears all the way down. A whole eternity passed – or so it seemed to the Lorax – before he finally came to his senses and opened his eyes.
He stroked the ground with a paw for the last time, then slowly straightened up to see all the forest inhabitants gathered around.
He didn’t even have to say anything. For them, it was time to look for a new home. But for him, it was time to go – for who knows how long. Now that the forest was dead, it couldn’t hold its guardian here anymore – or worse, could start draining powers out of him. Lorax tried his best to save it. He’d done everything he could, and gave away everything he had. Or not?..
The Lorax closed his eyes, then put both paws onto his heart and stretched them out to the animals.
Orange light, invisible for a human eye, coated them, giving strength, bringing relief.
The magic he saved for them.
The last gift that would help them on their way.
Near the factory wall was a circle of stones, and the Lorax was standing on top of the biggest one, looking at the inventor with sorrow.
If only the human could understand the guardian’s glance now, when he no longer had the power to talk in human language…
The Once-ler turned around. Maybe hearing the Lorax’s thoughts. Maybe not. But the Lorax could clearly see that there was no predatory glimmer in his eyes.
I can’t stay here.
The Once-ler seemed to understand – or why else he took off his top hat...
The earth doesn’t hold me.
And, gathering the last scraps of magic he had, the little spirit lifted himself from the ground as a pale light beamed on him.