Asia Chey


Father sat down next to me on a perfect, bright morning like he always did. I watched as he looked
thoughtfully out the French windows to the lines of identical white houses and white fences. There was
never anything different – it was always the same green lawns and the same blue sky. Families of a dad,
mom, and child stepped out of their respective houses and walked in unison for their scheduled
morning walks. A mother smiled at her daughter and held her hand, no wrinkles shown on her face. She
looked familiar, but I didn’t know her. The father of a different family touched the collar of his
creaseless, white, polo shirt. It felt like I had seen him somewhere in a movie, but he was just my
“Look, son.”
I noticed Father’s perfectly divided hairline. I wondered how he kept his hair so shiny and flawless
without any effort put into it.
“Look outside! This whole world is made for us.” He waved his long, bony hand at the neighbors passing
by as they waved their hands back. I waved at them, too.
“I had to make a choice to be part of this world. And one day, you will, too. I made a choice to build this
world made just for us, and you will choose if you’ll stay or leave this perfect world. A world with only
happiness. ”
The splendid sunlight from the window illuminated Father’s sharp face. There wasn’t a single smudge on
Father’s bold glasses and the sun highlighted his pure, square, white teeth and his picture-perfect smile.
“Our proud town of Frensia is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us. Outside of Frensia lies
nothing but danger. That world is made up of pure massacre, death, violence, and sin. Anybody would
be lucky if they survived for more than one day…so many horrible things waiting at your door. That is
why I chose this life for us. And when you turn 14,” Father smiled carefully, “You will make a choice,
because you have free will. You were only eight when I made the decision for us to be part of this
perfect world. And now that you’re all grown up, you’ll officially be able to make it your decision – your
choice to live in this perfect world.” Questions filled me as my expression changed to confusion. “Don’t
be afraid, son. It will be the greatest choice you will ever make – because you have free will.”
It isn’t the first time Father has told me about ‘the choice.’ He has taught me over and over about my
choice and my free will for as long as I can remember, although my earliest memory of my life started
when I was eight. Father tells me about what I was like when I was a baby. Photos and stories fill the
gaps in my life, but my memories seem to be nonexistent.
Father tells me it is up to me to decide if I will continue this life in Frensia. I wonder what free will is.
What other life would I live if not Frensia? It’s the only life I’ve ever known. Father never tells me what
the outside world is. But always says how awful life is like out there and how dangerous everything else
is. But why? Why can you only breathe with a filtered mask – why do you need to protect a glass of
water with your whole life?
Father says I have a choice: to stay in this perfect world or leave all I’ve ever known to go to the outside
world where I would probably die within the first day. What kind of option is that? Everybody knows
that anyone in their right mind would know not to choose the latter. So why does Father sit me down
and tell me about my choice so much? I don’t show Father how the questions fill my head every time he
tells me about free will.
“Believe in free will,” Father says with a warm but tightened expression on his face. “Only your free will
can save you and keep our family together here in our world, Son. It will be up to you, and only you,
once you turn fourteen.”
Father works as a salesman for his own company. He makes the best lawnmowers in town, the one that
everybody I know uses. Everywhere you go, you can see each family’s shiny, red lawnmower parked on
their properly trimmed grass. But, there was always someone new to present and propose his product
to. Smiling and talking about what he loves all day, feeling the satisfaction of successfully selling another
lawnmower, I always saw him grinning as he counted his money at the end of each day. It’s his perfect
Mother knocked on the door with three quarter-note-long knocks and entered the room.
“Breakfast, boys,” I heard her say, “We don’t want to be late for church, darling.”
Mother is an elegant woman. At the end of each day, Mother goes to bed knowing that our house is
spotless, just like herself. Her silky, blonde hair brushes against her porcelain skin as she works around
the house all day. Mother always wakes up wearing her kind smile to start the day of cooking and
cleaning. There is never a day that Mother does not smile. Mother is nice. But I don’t know much other
than that. I’ve never had an actual conversation with Mother, apart from the rare call to come to eat
I remember a dinner. It was the dinner I learned not to ask questions about the outside world. The
outside world was bad – period. That night I had asked everything on my mind. Father completely shut
down and immediately left to make a phone call. Father looked at me with a perfect balance of disgust,
worry, and great sadness on his face. I heard him greet the other person on the phone as he left the
“Hello? Yes, I want to report a system error.” Pause. “Yes, it’s about him.” Pause. “Minor malfunctions
but the questions just keep multiplying.” Pause. “Okay. Thank you.” He hung up.
I wondered who he was calling. What was he calling for? Questions filled me. Questions always fill me,
but most of the time it’s better not to ask them.
Today is my 14th birthday. It was any other day, except I missed the bus so Father had to drive me to
school. Any other day, except today I would make the choice. He drove in silence. He looked like he was
lost in thought whereas I was lost in questions. Father pulled up to the bus stop in front of my school. He
turned to me, looking indifferent and awkward.
“So, this is it.” I didn’t know if he meant my bus stop or my choice. “You’re already fourteen. Tonight,
you’ll make the most important choice of your life. It's either living safe in our perfect Frensia, or you
terminate everything I have done to get us here right now. Remember, you have free will, and the
choice to do the right thing, son. I hope you make the right choice.”
But the right choice was so obvious. Father has told me countless times about the white door on my
14th birthday. It was always, “you have free will…”, “make the right choice…”, “perfect world or death?”
But what’s the point of having free will if there is only one choice allowed? Why does Father keep telling
me it's my choice? It was his choice to come to this world and his choice to make my stay. Father looked
at me as if he knew the questions I was asking in my head.
“Happy birthday, son.” Father drove off.
I walked into my classroom and took my seat at the very front. I looked around at the other kids next to
me – the children of each family in our town. The only kids I knew in this world. Are there children like
me in the outside world?
I had friends, a group of them actually, but I didn’t know them very well. They’re good friends, polite
and smart. They never fight or argue. I don’t talk to them about things like my 14th birthday.
After school Father and I sat down at the dining table as Mother brought us my birthday cake. The
happy birthday song was sung by two monotone voices as I blew out fourteen candles on my cake.
Father looked sharper and tenser. I could almost feel his increasing worry as the clock ticked closer to
“It’s almost twelve, Frensia. Happy birthday. I hope you make the right choice, and I pray I’ll see you
soon.” Father closed the door of my room as I got ready for my choice.
That night, I sat in bed, replaying everything Father had ever said in my head.
Somewhere in this perfect world, I think that the only imperfection possible is my existence. I hope
Father will be proud of me, even if he’s the most perfect person in this world. Any moment now, the
perfect white walls and furniture would turn into a long, black corridor with one white door standing as
pure and glorious as the blinding sun of Frensia. In the blink of an eye, as Father had explained. Before I
would be able to comprehend the magic in front of me, I would be in the middle of it all.
Then I was there. I was sitting on my bed, staring at the wall, and then I was standing in a black hallway
lined with endless identical doors. I looked around at what had to be the happiest moment in my life.
This will be my story, I thought. This will be the moment that I will retell to my child back in my world
with Father and Mother and everything I’ve ever known. I didn’t know how I was feeling. How am I
supposed to be feeling? Excited? Scared? I really don’t know. I was just confused – still am confused.
The black void of the corridor consumed me. Where am I? An infinite array of black, wooden doors lined
the hallways. There was some sort of light, but so faint and weak that my eyes could barely make sense
of anything. I slowly walked past one or two doors, alert and cautious of what might be on the other
side. If there even was another side. My body felt slow and disconnected as if I was walking in water.
But then I felt a rush of adrenaline pour into my brain – a desperate need to make a change, an
immediate need that I couldn’t satisfy.
Something in me started to run. My body felt exhausted, but I couldn’t stop. Wouldn’t stop. I ran for
what seemed like hours. There was no logic and no end to the path I ran – just a choice. My brain
stopped thinking at some point; it had too much to think about. My heart filled my head with blood as
my lungs forgot how to breathe. The pressure built up in my body as the unwanted box of thoughts
broke out and began filling me. I wish I didn’t need to choose. I wish I never knew about the white door.
I wish I could stay with Father. I wish I wasn’t born into this family.
Thoughts banged into my dizzy head like the beat of a drum chasing my fate down. Or maybe it was my
heartbeat. Or maybe it was just me.
Exhaustion poured over me as my eyes could no longer communicate what they were seeing. I didn’t
understand when or how, but I found myself collapsed, staring into the endless void I was trapped in. I
saw the blurs of the infinite black doors flash around me everywhere.
Then there was pain. An unbearable pain struck my eyes as I clawed and covered and blocked it with my
swollen fingers the best I could.
Light. A kind of light I have never seen – the blinding kind. It was brighter than the sun in Frensia that
shone on Father’s face and in my eyes. It was brighter than anything in this entire world. The black void
wasn’t so black anymore, as the pure spotlight reflected into the endless darkness. I felt my heartbeat in
my eyes as every muscle in my body cried and begged for everything to stop. I begged for everything to
My eyes ringed and blurred as I squinted them open. There was the white door, patiently waiting for me
to embrace the arms of my future. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t moving a single muscle in
my body, but I was getting closer to the white door somehow. My heartbeat struggled to maintain a
constant thump as I felt a rush of panic and denial down my spine. This is my fate. I was destined to
enter that door. I have to – I have no choice.
But that is not what Father promised me. Father said I have free will. Father said I have a choice. What
choice is that? I did not choose to enter the white door.
It was all useless. I was an inch away from the flashing enlightenment of my future – but I didn’t want
my future. I had no strength, no energy, no life flowing in me anymore. I felt my eyes fall out of focus
and hide behind my eyelids. Is this what I want? Is this what I planned?
Is this what I chose?
I channeled all the energy I had left in my body to fight this power. I forced my crying eyes to open and
forced my disconnected arm to reach. Reach for anything, anything other than this. My body was ripping
in half, the glaring light of the door dragging me in.
I screamed in agony as the sound waves rippled off into to void, unheard. The pain popped into my ears
as I felt a cold, metallic, circular handle at my fingertips. I fought and yelled and pulled myself out of the
white door, draining every last bit of life in me. I looked at what I had grabbed. It was a silver door
handle, attached to one of those black doors. The handle was cold and I saw that it was different from
all the other black doors in the corridor.
In a wave of desperation and pain, I kicked open the dark door and entered a new world.
My new world.
I did it. I thought.
But did I? A swarm of regret and guilt took over my thoughts as I imagined Father’s face if he found out I
had not made the right choice.
What is the right choice? The white door was there, so bright and clear. My future was in the palm of my
hands, presented to me on a silver platter like Father said it would be. But I changed my future – I
changed my fate and destiny because I have free will. It was supposed to be that way.
Yes, that’s what I chose.
I opened my eyes. No more blinding light, thank god. I was standing in a big room, the size of a factory
or a lab. My entire body ached for a second and my head was spinning vigorously. Where am I now? Had
I entered the outside world? Covering one of the walls of the room was a huge window that stretched
from where I was standing to the way back. The outside was messy. Black fumes from every collapsed
building clouded the dark red sky.
I had entered the outside world. I looked around to see identical lines of white space-like capsules
covering the entire room in two straight rows. Thousands of people were lying inside each tube,
attached to wires and machines from head to toe, peacefully asleep. They all had pale faces and
shriveled hands, looking like the capsules were draining the life out of them. The walls were clean and
everything was pure white, almost like a gallery of dead people. A melodic jingle gently played out of the
room speakers. A robotic voice echoed through the building.
“Do you want to die? Let’s face it. Truth on Earth is painful, and pain is something we don’t like here,
over at Dreamlife. Are you left alone in this scary world? Are you worried for yourself and your family?
Well, you can sign up today here at Dreamlife, so that you can live your perfect dream life either alone
or with family and friends! Choose your favorite utopia template today, and join us, at Dreamlife.”
I peered over at the capsule human closest to where I was standing and my stomach dropped. This had
to be some kind of joke. In the cold and empty tube was Father, pale, covered in machines, and peaceful
as everyone else in the room. Lying next to Father was someone familiar. I may not remember anything
before I turned eight, but I know what I looked like. And eight-year-old Frensia was in that capsule, in
that room, in that outside world.
The speakers started again.
“Minors (fourteen and under) entered into the system must choose if they want to continue living in
their utopian simulation and renew their contract, or terminate it forever once they turn fourteen. Sign
your child up today at Dream life.”

Asia Kay Chey is a thirteen-year-old girl living in the bustling capital city of South Korea. Asia’s passion
for creative writing and humanitarian art has been a driving force since childhood. She has loved reading
and writing for as long as she can remember, finding comfort as the story unveils itself through its flow
of words. As Asia grows older, her love for literature only grows stronger, leading her to write short
stories and poems in and out of school. Asia grows up loved by her dynamic family, consisting of a dad
who is a well-known businessman, a mom who is a humanitarian director, the funniest brother, and the
most optimistic grandparents. She is privileged with an endless supply of ideas and inspiration from her
family, who all enjoy discussing various topics. Asia hopes to continue her love for writing and art as she
grows into a young adult.

"14 candles on birthday cake" by Scott McLeod is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Author
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A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!