Unless

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

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3. everybody needs a thneed

He starts promoting his thneed again within the week, to both the despair and glee of the townspeople.

He gets the name of whoever was causing all that ruckus out in the valley and startling the animals (Norma Wiggins, she tells him; she doesn't look much older than him), and he heeds the Lorax's advice on the tomatoes to everyone's relief. (It wasn't like he could live on pancakes and marshmallows, anyhow; there weren't many nutrients in either, though they were tasty enough.)

Well. He was promoting his thneed again, the townspeople were back to throwing tomatoes, things were as normal as they could be. He'd be fine if he could just get someone to buy a thneed.

Eventually, he tells himself. Eventually.

(He isn't sure anymore how much of his life is real and how much of it is pretended. He's hoping that most of it is real.)

***

He makes up a new jingle for the thneed, to all the animals' chagrin (except the Humming Fish, of course, though they always enjoyed a tune).

It's been ages since he'd been back in his sleepy old town, though he couldn't say he missed it much. (Or his family. He spent his whole life wanting their approval, trying to win it. It might have been all for nothing in the end. He hopes it hadn't been. He's hoping the thneed might change that.)

Here, our Once-ler is nineteen, three months of the way to twenty, no longer stuck planning in a tree house far too small for his height. Here, the thneed is known, despite being made fun of initially. At least, the Once-ler thinks, they aren't throwing tomatoes or breaking guitars anymore. (Shame, really, about the tomatoes. Now he'd actually have to buy them.)

But the peace of Truffula Valley is short lived.

***

It starts when travelers begin to trickle through town, heading to desert cities, to ocean side towns, to places that had no name but were still heard of.

It starts with the Once-ler donning his guitar and thneed, though not yet the jingle, sat in the shade of a particular gazebo, and a traveler approaching about the thneed. (They are a faceless person in the Once-ler's memory of them, fuzzy and blurred. All he knows is that they were asking after his thneed. All he remembers is hoping that they'd like it.)

They smile and putter over and ask after the thneed like it's the easiest thing in the world - fine thing, isn't it, they say, smiling with an emptiness that the Once-ler hardly notices. (The empty smile is more from habit than it is anything else; empty smiles got people to leave you alone once they caught on.)

Yes! Yes, it is, the Once-ler says, startled and wary, wondering what the catch is with this one. No one here had liked the thneed, at least not anyone he knew of. What difference did it make if they were a traveler?

It's only $3.98, he adds, cautiously hopeful that this person liked his thneed even if the town didn't. The traveler's empty smile goes by still unnoticed, and the Once-ler finally, finally manages to sell a thneed.

***

After the first, there comes more in slowly increasing numbers, and eventually--

Eventually the town gets in on it, too, when the stream of travelers stops flowing, despite there being the odd group of people still holding out on mocking him and his thneed. Norma ends up helping out, knowing how to knit and all, but eventually...

Well, eventually his thneed takes the town by storm, surprisingly. And eventually, he takes to calling his family, despite the Lorax advising against it.

After all...

How bad could this possibly be?

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