Chapter 7

Night had long descended upon the lay-by where the Doctor had left his TARDIS. The moon was playing a game of hide and seek among clouds pregnant with snow. The temperature had plummeted as the wind picked up, blowing in fitful gusts from the northeast. A rime of frost was forming along the banks of the stream.

As the clouds covered the moon the landscape slowly dissolved, leaving only dark, indistinct shapes in its wake. That's when a swirling mass of large snowflakes began to drift earthward, like downy feathers from a giant pillow fight. Donna stared at them moodily.

Within minutes, the edges of the branches were already coated with a fine layer of white, looking for all the world like gingerbread trees. She scowled as she watched the flakes gentling settling on the sleeve of her parka. She felt the wetness of them on her hair. Her peripheral vision glimpsed a whiteness on a long ginger strand, clinging to it like dandruff. Donna almost savagely yanked her hood up.

"Oh, very nice. Love the parky weather they have here. In case you hadn't noticed, it's snowing. In blinking October." She said, biting out the the last few words. A clear indication that she didn't really think there was anything nice about it, at all.

"Why yes, so it is!" The Doctor smiled, as he walked a circle around the picnic table.

Snow was already clinging to his trainers, as they crunched through the fallen maple leaves. The crossbow-style device was held in his outstretched right hand, bleeping away. He paused for a moment, admiring the changing scenery.

"Aw, isn't this beautiful! It hardly ever snowed on Galifrey. Just the mountaintops. Maybe that's why the hermits lived there. I do love the snow. Better than atmospheric excitation, any day. Or that paper stuff the BBC uses. This is the real thing, Donna. You don't know how lucky you humans are."

In response, Donna rolled her eyes and gave a derisive snort. "Lucky my foot. This stuff may be nice for you, alien boy. But that's only cos' you've never been stuck shoveling out the drive at four o'clock in the morning."

Just then, the device in the Doctor's hand gave off a strange, high-pitched warbling noise.

"Hold on." The Doctor said, throwing a puzzled stare at the thing. "That's not supposed to do that. Unless..." His head jerked up. His sniffed the air suspiciously and made a face. "Can you smell that?" The Doctor asked Donna.

"Yeah. Fresh air. Swell." Donna said unhappily. "We can build a campfire and invite all the moose over for a sing along."

"No, Donna. Not that." The Doctor shook his head in mild annoyance. She wasn't paying attention. "There's this rather nasty burning plastic smell to the air. Reminds me of—"

The Doctor's eye had caught a slight glimmer of red near the roadside. A slender beam of light formed a dot on the tarmac. It stopped him in mid-sentence. Without warning, he grabbed Donna's arm and jerked her away.

"Donna! Come on! Shift!"

Pulling her along, the Doctor made a mad dash for the protection of the nearby forest. Donna let go with a curse as she nearly tripped and fell on a projecting tree root.

"Don't swear! Just run!" The Doctor called out, as he continued to drag her away.

Before Donna could say anything further, the picnic table they'd been standing near just moments before was suddenly obliterated in a blast of fire and smoke.

"Wait a minute!" Donna protested as she ran. "Where are we going? The TARDIS is back that way."

"Yes, Donna. And apparently so is the thing that's trying to kill us."

"Well isn't that wizard? What'd you do this time? Use the wrong parking space again?" She asked in quick succession.

"Beats me." He said, as he ducked into the trees along the water's edge, looking for a place to cross. "Maybe I parked in their favourite make out spot."

"Oy! Watch it!" Donna scolded, gasping as she narrowly avoided being struck by a back-flung branch after the Doctor had passed under it.

"Sorry." The Doctor said, as he ran on ahead of her.

Biting her tongue to keep from swearing again, Donna grimaced, as her face was pelted with snow. The Doctor was rapidly threading his way through the trees, like a deft seamstress' needle through an intricate tapestry. He'd momentarily forgotten that his night vision was far superior to Donna's.

"Look out, Donna!" He shouted, as he sent another branch her way. A fraction too late, as it happened.

"Thanks for that." She told him sarcastically.

Wiping her dripping face with her sleeve, Donna warily kept an eye out for any more wayward branches. In doing so, she'd nearly crashed into the Doctor's back. He had abruptly paused, eying something below them in the stream. Finding what he'd been looking for, the Doctor leaped off the low bank of the stream. He'd landed square on a stony patch of land. It was a miniature island, dividing the stream into two narrow watercourses before they joined together once more, further on. Holding out his arms, the Doctor helped Donna jump across to where he stood.

Once they had safely crossed to the other side the stream, they made their way up the wooded hillside. The Doctor stopped for a moment to see if they were being followed. For cover, he used a boulder the size of a mini. There was another explosion from the direction of the lay-by. Seconds later, the two of them instinctively ducked as a chunk of flaming wood crashed into the weeds near the stream. The Doctor ironically observed the flames being extinguished by the softly falling snow.

"But...why are they trying to kill us?" Donna asked, breathing heavily. She leaned against the boulder, feeling the icy hardness of the granite penetrating even the thick fabric of her parka. "Who are they?"

"Dunno." The Doctor said, tugging on his ear. "But whomever they are, they obviously don't like picnic tables."

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