Maddie Adams

Maddie Adams picture
Maddie Adams is an aspiring YA author. She lives with her fiancé and cat, both of whom inspire many characters. Ever since she learned Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon at sixteen, she has dreamed of getting a novel published. She has dabbled in many fields including music, teaching, and business but always comes back to writing.
Award Category Finalist
Award Submission Title
The Origin Stone
Aurin, a sixteen-year-old orphan, stumbles upon a strange stone which transports her and her best friend Demetrius to the magical world of Beru, where she discovers her long-lost family and her uncontrollable magical powers.
My Submission
The tree next to me was on fire.

My first thought after opening my eyes should have been ‘run’. Instead, my mind jumped immediately to the stone. I flexed my empty hands. No broken bones, but no stone either. A buzzing filled my ears and the fire melted into memory. 

        The absence of noise had been the first clue. In a forest, silence was as deafening as any siren. Then I saw it, nestled between two thick roots. An enormous ruby red gem. Bright where the forest was dark, clean where the ground was dirty, polished where the roots were rough.

        “We’re gonna be rich!” Demi had exclaimed.

        He reached for the stone. I grabbed his hand, his fingers inches from the smooth surface.

        “Don’t touch it!”

        “Why not?”

        My scalp had prickled unpleasantly. Something was wrong. 

I shot upright. Demi. He couldn’t be far. Acrid smoke reached my nose, and I coughed. The flames spread to another tree, and another. Rain still poured, but the fire didn’t notice. Smoke and water mingled, coating my throat.


I barely made out the voice. Fire and storm roared in unison.

“Aurin! Where are you?”

“Demi!” His name leapt from my mouth.

My best friend emerged from between two trees. He stumbled towards me, eyes red and watering. Embers dotted his hair. I practically collapsed at the sight of him, soot-smudged but safe.

“Demi, are you okay?”

He grabbed my arms. “I think so. Are you?”

“Yeah,” I yelled above a rumble of thunder. “Where’s the stone?”

His face twisted. “What?”

“The stone,” I repeated. “Don’t you remember? It right there when all this started. I think it—”

“Aurin,” Demi cried, shoving his dark curls off his forehead. “We don’t have time for a recap. Forget the stone!”

I shoved down my protests. It wasn’t important. Besides, I was probably wrong. Demi didn’t need to hear my suspicions about the stone.

Because that’s all they were. Suspicions. Crazy ones at that. No matter how clearly I remembered the eerie silence emanating from the stone.

        The rain had drenched every inch of the forest, including Demi and me. Every inch except the stone and a small circle around it. They were completely dry.

        “Do you see this?” I had asked, outlining the circle with a finger.

        “Spooky,” Demi said. He rubbed his arms.

        “Let’s just go. Please.” I backed away from the gem.

        “Or we can smash it,” Demi suggested, grinning.

        As if his words flipped a switch, a flash of lightning split the sky. Thunder followed, loud enough to shake the ground.

        “Or not,” he said.

        The wind blew furiously, turning raindrops into miniature bullets. I covered my face with my arms.

        “I’m sorry,” Demi shouted at the stone. “I won’t smash you; I promise!”

        I half expected the storm to stop at his apology. The impossible silence, the sudden cloudless rainstorm, the chill running down my spine. It all centered on the stone.

The rain still poured relentlessly but now the entire world was on fire. Flames taunted me, licking the edges of my vision.

“What now?” I said, my voice thick with ash.

“Clean air goes low. Get down!” Demi cried.

We both flung ourselves to the ground. The earth was wet from the rain and I breathed in.

“Cover your face,” I said, pulling my shirt over my nose. It smelled of sweat and smoke.

We watched as the fire spread to the next tree. Soon we would be in a burning cage. Demi shuffled closer to me, sparks snapping at his side.

“We have to get out of here,” we said in unison.

“If we can find some water or something,” I said, “we can hide there until the fire passes.”

“Someone must have noticed the smoke.” He peered at the sky. Clouds and smoke shielded the sun.

My stomach clenched. “What if the clouds are covering it? What if no one’s coming?”

Demi shoved sweaty hair off his face. His eyes narrowed.

“The water,” he declared. “It’s our best option.”

I pointed out an opening in the flames. Together we crawled on our hands and knees towards it.

“Go flat on your stomach,” I called to Demi. “We can’t risk getting our clothes caught by the fire.”

Twigs and rocks scratched against my stomach. Demi squirmed and wriggled next to me. We barely made it a foot before the fire roared across our path.

“This is no use,” I said. “It’ll take us forever to get anywhere safe.”

“Well, we can’t just give up and die,” Demi said.

The smoke burning my lungs urged me to do just that. I laid my cheek against the ground, breathing in the loamy scent. The dirt was damp from the rainstorm.

“The dirt,” I said, gasping. “We can cover ourselves in it, make a barrier against the fire. Then we make a break for it.”

“For it?” Demi asked. He threw his hands up, gesturing at the forest. “For what? Where?”

 “I don’t know. Pick a direction.”

Demi glanced around us at the glowing forest. “Um, right?”

“Good enough for me.”

I scraped my wet hair into a ponytail. A few long blonde strands stuck to my cheeks. I shoveled dirt onto Demi’s back as he did the same to me. I even smashed my face into the ground, letting the rain and sweat create mud on my face.

“Okay, on the count of three, we run for it. Ready?”

Demi’s green eyes shone through the mud. He nodded.

“One, two, three, run!”

Leaping from the ground, we took off to the right. I tried to ignore the flames and heat on my arms. We crashed through the forest, blindly racing forward. The fire was never-ending, keeping pace with us, even pushing ahead to lick at the mud on our arms, drying it out so it fell off in chunks.

My eyes watered. I barely avoided crashing into tree trunks. Demi kept hold of my hand. Our sneakers slipped and squelched in the mud. My lungs burned with the effort of running through thick smoke. My foot snagged a root, plunging me to the ground.

        My foot had snagged a root. The chaos slowed. Raindrops suspended in midair. Lightning etched across the sky in perfect lines. Demi’s hand was in mine. He pulled me, trying to catch my weight, but my momentum was too much.

        We fell to the muddy ground in slow motion, me first, Demi following. I braced myself, reaching out with my free hand. Mud and leaves flew into my eyes, obscuring my vision. My hand had closed over something smooth. The red stone.

I didn't remember hitting the ground this time. I only knew the stone wasn't in my hand, and my mouth was paper-dry.

Demi crouched next to me. “Are you all right?”

“I fell,” I said.

“I know you did,” he said, eyes flashing in concern. “Come on, let’s get you up.”

“No, not now. Before. The stone, remember? A horrible storm… the lightning!”

“We know all this,” Demi said.

I shook my head. “Something isn’t right. That stone. It wasn’t right.”

For the first time, I looked past the flames to the trees being consumed. Tall, so tall I couldn’t see the tops. Thin, with branches high above us. The ground, clear of shrubs with no visible paths.

“This isn’t our forest.”

“Did you get a concussion?” Demi said. He touched my head gingerly.

“I’m telling you; something’s different.”

He pursed his lips. “It’s okay. You’ll be better once we get out of here.”

My jaw clenched. I looked him straight in the eye, glaring with all my strength. He didn’t flinch. I always forgot he was the one person who didn’t squirm under my gaze. Demi called my eyes otherworldly, a word I’m sure he looked up specifically for that purpose. At least it was better than freaky or gross or witchy, just a few of the nicknames my eyes gained at school. Their array of colors mimicked a sunset: deep red lined with yellows and pinks. Even I couldn’t meet my gaze in a mirror.

“Aurin, we need to go or we’ll die here,” Demi pleaded.

“Or you could come with me.”

I jumped at the voice, scrambling backwards only to feel the heat of the flames. Several embers stung my back. Demi let out a strangled yelp.

Distracted by our argument, neither of us saw the creature approach. It was feet away from us. An enormous wild cat, the size of a lion or tiger.

Demi raised both hands in front of him. “Nice kitty,” he stuttered. “Good kitty. I’m just going to back away. Don’t mind me; that’s a good kitty.”

Two glowing eyes cut through the rain and smoke. I froze, racing to remember Girl Scouts. One year was all the nuns could afford. When faced with big cats, was it run or play dead? Or neither?

The voice came again.

“Get on my back if you want to live.”

The cat. It was talking.

“Aurin,” Demi faltered, “I think that cat is trying to save our lives.”

I looked from the fire to Demi to the cat. It might have been the smoke inhalation, the exhaustion, or the sheer terror of being burned alive, but I didn’t question a single word Demi said.

“We should let him,” I said simply.

“Are you sure?” Demi said, eyeing the cat.

“Now do you agree there’s something weird going on?” I said, slinging a leg over the cat’s back. “Get up here.”      

Demi shoved his hair away from his face, grimacing. A crack boomed. Another tree branch crashed to the ground.

“Dem!” I yelled, reaching out.

He scrambled away from the burning branch. In another second, he was behind me on the cat’s back.

“Hold on,” the cat said. His chest vibrated against my legs.

With a giant leap, the cat soared over the raging fire. Flames licked my sides, and I couldn’t resist turning. Behind us, the fire grew, chasing us through the forest. The cat ran hard and fast, ducking and leaping. His gait was surprisingly smooth. Demi clutched my shoulders.

My mind raced like the cat. Adrenaline made it difficult to focus on one question. My head was bursting from the ever-growing confusion.

“We need to cross the river,” the cat called to us. “It will create a natural barrier against the fire.”

The forest blurred as he ran. Each of his strides was triple one of mine. He moved faster than Demi and I ever could. Hope stirred in my chest. We might have a chance. But the inferno still nipped at our heels.

In moments, we reached a river. The rain overflowed its banks. Waves crashed and churned against the shore.

“We must cross,” the cat said. He knelt again to let us off his back.

“I’d rather face the fire,” said Demi, rubbing his arms.

I smacked his shoulder. “Don’t be ridiculous. This is our only chance.”

Fire behind us and water in front. Burn or drown. Those were the options. Or that elusive third one: live.

“Over here,” the cat called. He’d moved farther down the bank. “This is the safest place to cross.”

It didn’t look safe. In fact, it looked just as terrifying as the rest of the river. I squared my shoulders.

The icy water was both a shock and relief. My shoes slipped into the mud. Demi came behind me, grimacing and grumbling with every movement. When a particularly nasty wave arose, he grabbed my arm, almost sending me plunging into the water. The cat paddled next to us.

By the time we reached the middle of the river, Demi and I were paddling, too. The cat’s powerful haunches moved as speedily in the water as on land. He passed in front of us, shielding us from the brunt of the waves.

The cold had seeped into my bones. Demi’s lips were purple, and I’m sure mine looked the same. A new death option: freezing.

We pushed through the cold and waves to reach the other side of the river. I finally looked back at the fire. It raged on the far side of the river. On our side, there wasn’t so much as a spark.

As soon as I pulled my foot out of the muck, shoe long gone, I collapsed onto the ground. Demi sprawled beside me, panting. I shivered, almost wishing for the heat of the fire again. When I caught my breath, I looked around for the cat.

He sat a few feet behind us. The smoke was much thinner. I saw his entire form.

The creature was unlike anything I’d ever seen. At first glance, he might be an enormous housecat. But there was no word for what he was. No word I knew, anyway.

His lion-sized body remained stock-still, the fur plastered down. Brown, black and white mottled his back. He tilted his large head as he gazed into my eyes. My chest tingled. The creature’s bright yellow eyes poured into me, straight into my soul. I couldn’t move or breathe. His stare wrenched the air from my lungs like a blow to the gut. He blinked, and the feeling faded. I shook my head, dizzy.

The cat’s paws shifted in the mud. If they could even be called paws. They had toes as long as fingers, with sharp claws glinting beneath.

I cleared my throat. It hadn’t really felt like talking to animal until this moment. “Thank you for saving us.”

“You are welcome,” the cat replied in his guttural voice.

I stood on shaky legs. Demi clutched my hand.

“Wait,” he whispered. “What if he only saved us to eat us?”

I yanked my hand from his.

“If he wanted to eat us, he would’ve let the fire cook us first.”

Dem sighed, tugging at the hem of his sopping shirt. “Fine, but your tombstone is going to say, ‘Demetrius tried to stop her.’”

“I do not want to eat you,” said the cat. He made a rumbling sound I realized was laughter. “You are not from here, are you?”

“From where?” Demi said, shooting the creature an irritated glance.

I took a deep breath, trying to follow every adult’s advice and blame my overactive imagination. The trees, the ground, even the massive river. The cat was right; we weren’t from here. I pressed a hand to my chest. If my heart didn’t stop racing soon, I’d have a heart attack.

“I can offer food and a place to warm yourselves,” said the cat-creature. “I believe it would be wise to do so immediately.”

Demi’s forehead creased. He shoved his mess of curls back. “Thanks, but we have to get back to Lewiston.”

“Not to sound too Wizard of Oz, but I don’t think we’re in Michigan anymore.” I chuckled despite my spinning head, grasping a tree for stability.

“So, where are we?” Demi asked, rolling his eyes.

“We are in Anu,” the cat replied. “I am Somar. Who are you?”

“Demetrius. People call me Demi,” he answered. A beat passed and his eyes widened to saucers. “No, wait! What?”

The cat, Somar, laughed again. “We are in Anu. My homeland.”

My body shivered. The fire’s heat didn’t reach our side of the river. The night air stiffened my wet clothes. Part of me wanted to blow past the whole talking-cat-where-are-we conversation and get somewhere warm.

“I’m Aurin,” I offered. “Um, Somar? Are we still on Earth?” I bit my lip hard to stop it from shaking.

“No, friend. We are on Beru.” Somar looked between us. “Is Earth your home?”

“Of course it is!” Demi cried.

He ran both hands through his hair. He bent over, breathing out a long stream of air.


He straightened. “This is bad, Aurin. This is really bad. We’re on a different planet? A different world?”

“Just—” I held up my hands, palms out.

“Oh, crap, crap, crap. Mom gets mad if I’m late for dinner! This isn’t late for dinner. This is late for — for… life,” he finished weakly.


C.R.Mitchell Mon, 31/08/2020 - 20:57

Christopher Paolini is definitely an inspiration! As a finalist, I am sure you are on your way to great successes too! Congratulations on being a finalist! Wishing you all the best!

~ Christina