A World Where No One Dreamed

December 4, 2022 / Rachel Bai

In a world where mythology and its relationship with humans form a circle of creativity, comfort, and hope, technology shatters this fragile chain and inserts itself as the only possible answer.

In the southernmost corner of the sky, the vermillion bird perches on a mountain peak, hooked beak and talons sharp enough to slay gods gripping an imposing trunk. Its fiery red feathers burn a brilliant orange against the sunset. Shrewd eyes observe a mouse dart between grains and alert ears hear a bucket drop into a well. It’s waiting for its next ceremony — the coronation for a young king of a mighty nation — ready to bestow grace and glory.

Hidden in the dense woods, the king lies in a pile of his own blood. The foul odor permeates the air but nothing can fog the feral bloodlust of the hunter. She had a hunch that the king’s measly bodyguards would be no match for her rifle, loaded with .300 Winchester Magnum rounds. And now she knows that the vermillion bird would soon be a limp, cowardly version of itself.


The sun dips into the valley. The stars blink into existence. The vermillion bird expands its massive wings. A boom, a screech, a thud: The scorching south is nothing but flesh and skeleton.  

As mighty as any god, when faced with technology, the vermillion bird shrivels.

The hunter lifts her gun in victory. 

Somewhere in one of the thousand villages dotting the coast, glittering sea brightly contrasting the drab and gray landscape, a widow with four children clutches her taser close to her chest. Besides the tattered blanket wrapped around her children, the taser is the last possession she has for protection. War is long and draining, both emotionally and financially.

“Will we survive?” one of the children asks.

The widow hesitantly nods. She wants to reassure them, but she’s not sure how. There’s a gaping hole in her, one she doesn’t know how to fill. No matter how much she grasps and searches, she still fumbles.

Sometimes, when the night is long and dark and smoke smothers all stars and the moon, she wonders if it’s always been so quiet and dull. She swears that her father’s voice, firm and hoarse, spoke tales of gods and dragons to her, but all the words she remembers are droplets of rain that don’t make sense together. The king dies, and the hunters rise to power: These are the proven facts, as irrefutable as the vermillion that never existed, that became a whisper in the wind.

Outside, a bomb explodes, and the widow drowns in her uncertainty.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, while the captain marvels at the hunk of metal designed to brave storms and rough terrains, a couple shivers in close pattern with the crashing waves.

The couple hugs each other. Eyes closed, hands clasped, and foreheads touching, they are determined to remember the country they have just left. It’s hard, though, especially since every breath they inhale tastes salty. A bit like their tears. A bit like the fear coating their tongues and brains. 

The man is thinking about his mother, but in these turbulent, uncertain times, he feels sad that he can only remember the spinning machine. It spun and whirled a hundred times faster, produced more efficiently than ever, but he can’t recall exactly what his mom was weaving. In his memory, the thousands of pieces of fabric were nothing but a blob of color, devoid of individualism and culture. Click clack, plop and hiss: He wonders if there was a time when his mother listened to other sounds besides metal against metal.

Then, he wonders what he will bring to this new land. 

“What will we give our children?” he asks his wife.

She lifts eyelashes to reveal dark, wet eyes. “I don’t know.”

To start from the beginning of the world means to start with mythology. Soaring above the human limits, beyond even technology, and fueled by hope and wonder, it is born out of uncertainty. The explosions of desire, the mystery of the unknown. Mythology at its core contradicts technology. Where one exists, the other cannot thrive.

When exhausted civilians retire from a day of tilling and harvesting, they look upon the pool of stars dripping down the night sky for comfort. They see two lonely souls desperate to reunite and the heavenly mother kind enough to weave the stars into a bridge. The sweat dripping onto the dusty grounds hints at the possibility of fruitless labor, but the warmly illuminated stars remind them of hope and solidity.

When tables are empty and white is all that can be seen, a weary mother hugs her sickly babies and remembers Tudigong, the Earth god. She’s already cried for the past two days, and the only reassurance left is that her baby will be taken care of in the afterlife. Gentle in appearance and nature, Tudigong embraces her agony and softens her raw edges.

This is the truth that people believe in when the tunnel is dark and the light is far. This is the truth that has achieved immortality. The branches of this ancient tree change and mold as societies and individuals evolve and adapt; however, the fundamental roots anchoring the trunk deep in the dirt remain the same emotionally and spiritually. Humankind’s belief in everything and nothing might disappear, but the remnants of stories that remain inside of them will last forever.

Societies are built from these remnants. A primitive giant cracks the chaotic world in half with his ax, and from his sheer strength comes the separation between yin and yang, land and sky, balance and creation. His statues stand tall and proud, full of purpose, duty, and responsibility. The Three Sovereigns, demigods at their core, use magic to improve lives and, at the same time, remind people of kindness and empathy. Lessons of courage and passion, virtue and loyalty: These leading principles become the foundations of human interaction and societal construction.

From these commonly accepted morals and ethics comes the establishment of law and order. The complex web that exists between mythology, culture, and value has become so intertwined and tangled that one cannot separate from the other without loosening the yarns making the string. Every interaction leads to another idea, which ultimately crosses the boundaries and dabs a hesitant foot into the creation of major belief systems that could go on to change the world. Destroy the massive pillars anchoring the roof to the floor, and the beautiful structures would subsequently collapse, too.

And when that happens, what will be left at the end of the world is rusting metal and toxic sludge. Technology gives people a sense of faux permanence. It comes in with its flashy gadgets and sweeps aside the shiny diamonds that have existed in minds for thousands of years. However, it will eventually erode and disappear, and the certainty it provided will burn to ashes. Left with no armor or shield, humans will end up struggling to grapple with the new reality, one where mythology hasn’t been provided a chance to grow and bloom into the protection it could be. 

In one world, a lovely goddess and her pure white rabbit reside in a heavyset house gleaming a dark maple red under the brilliant light of the sun.

In another world, the telescope forces people to look up and see the uglier truth: craters, eroded rocks, and one dusty footprint. ■

By: Rachel Bai

Layout: Juleanna Culilap

Photographer: Jacob Tran

Stylists: Eileen Wang & Sophia Amstalden

HMUA: Meryl Jiang

Models: Tyler Kubecka & Tiffany Sun

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 19 here.
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