The Once-ler carved another line into the wall. Almost eight months. Eight long, silent months since the last tree fell, and the Lorax lifted himself away.
It was his birthday.
He stared at his pathetic calendar for a long time. There would be no celebrations this year – ever again, really. His mother never threw great parties, but at least they were something.
He wondered if she even thinks of him anymore.
The Once-ler crossed the room and pushed open the shutters, gazing across the smoky, ashen landscape. Abandoned buildings bent toward the ground, getting closer with every day. His chest tightened. It hadn't changed. It never would.
He climbed out the window, up to the roof of his lerkim, and sat atop the icy, ridged metal. A bitter, stagnant breeze whispered by him, the only thing brave enough to disturb the dead silence. He shuddered, pulling his suit tight around him. The garment was fraying, too; he knew he'd need to sew himself something better soon.
"Happy birthday to us, huh?" The Once-ler turned slowly to see a younger version of himself sitting beside him, in his familiar grey pants and vest. The Once-ler wasn't fazed – it wasn't the first time the specter had decided to pay him a visit.
"I love what you did with the place. This is probably the best party I've ever been too." The sharpness in his other self's voice stung.
The Once-ler scowled but said nothing, instead watching fog dance lazily over the hills.
"When are you going to do something about it? Sitting up here looking at it, that's not gonna fix anything."
He shot a glare at the other Once-ler, but was shocked to meet a look of equal fire. "Plant the seed."
"You know I tried that!" he cried back. "It didn't work. There's nothing I can do!"
"Yes, there is. You can try again. Like we always do."
The Once-ler groaned, burying his face in his gloves. "No… Not today. I don't want to think about it today."
He could feel the scorn radiating from his younger, and he wished he could crumble to dust under that gaze. It would be less painful than living out his days in the wasteland he'd created, hating himself more with every passing day.
The Once-ler jolted at the ghostly sensation of arms wrapping around him. He looked up at his other self. The sad, tender smile he found broke him, and tears rolled unhindered down his cheeks. Ethereal lips pressed to his, and he leaned into the only comfort he'd known in ages.
The other started to pull away, and the Once-ler sobbed. "Please, don't go yet…" His younger regarded him with open pity, but tightened his embrace. The Once-ler nestled into the touch.
"You know I can't stay long."
"Just for a little while," the Once-ler sighed. Eyes closed, he ignored the insistent cold as long as he could, lost to the scene in his mind.
The Once-ler was shivering when he finally opened his eyes again. He gave the desolate valley one last look before descending back to his room. He lit a fire in the hearth and settled down beside it, an old suit and his sewing needle in hand. It was about time he got ready for the rest of his life here.