Alvin – a young Black man in jeans and a hooded flannel shirt – is lying face down on a sandy beach, waves lapping at his legs. His hood is covering his face.
A white hand cautiously approaches, index finger extended. The finger rubs the back of Alvin's hand, then is turned over and examined.
Alvin gives a start and lifts his head.
Behind Alvin, between the dark gray ocean and the pale gray sky, a jagged array of black peaks juts out of the water like a sea serpent's coils, surrounding the island. One peak is smoldering, lava oozing down its side. A large chunk of the mountainside is missing, as if blasted away by a collision.
Alvin is staring ahead at ten Viking men of various ages, with long braided hair, wearing furs and leathers, wielding axes, swords and spears. They stare back at Alvin.
Alvin squints and rubs his eyes. He unbuttons his shirt pocket, takes out his glasses and puts them on.
The Vikings are still undeniably there.
TWELVE HOURS EARLIER:
Alvin is waiting in line at the Keflavik Airport duty free counter, carrying a five-foot-long light saber toy. A sticker on the breast pocket of his plaid flannel shirt reads:
"Peace Corps – Alvin Elliot, Program Manager".
The customer in front of him is chatting in Icelandic with Birta, the rotund, middle-aged cashier. The customer takes his bagged purchase and moves away.
Alvin steps up and hands the light saber to Birta. She speaks to him in English.
Birta: Would you like to pay in dollars or krona, sir?
Alvin replies in Icelandic.
Alvin: Dollars will be fine, thank you.
Birta: You speak Icelandic! Do you live here?
Alvin: No, I was just in for the conference. But I used to spend summers here, cleaning the beaches. Could you put a bow on it, please? It's a birthday present.
Birta: Certainly. For your son?
Alvin: My boyfriend's nephew.
Alvin hands Birta his credit card. She rummages through a box of bows, then stops to grimace and rub her lower back.
Alvin: My aunt suffered from back pain. She started doing Zumba and lost forty pounds. It made a world of difference. You might want to think about it.
Birta narrows her eyes at him and slams his credit card down on the counter. She tapes a light blue bow to the light saber.
Alvin: Oh, could it not be blue? I hate to reinforce gender stereotypes.
Birta yanks off the blue bow.
Birta: And yet, you're giving him a weapon.
Alvin: Oh. Maybe I should get him a puzzle?
Birta fishes a red bow from the box. On the counter Alvin notices a small stand of laminated certificates with pictures of grinning, spouting cartoon whales and the legend: "Adopt a whale! Name your own individual whale. All proceeds go to the Icelandic Nature Conservation Fund."
Alvin's cell phone rings. He takes it from his pocket and glances at it; the caller is 'Kareem'. He answers, smiling.
Alvin: Hey, babe! I was just about to call you. Listen, I just got Kevin a light saber toy, but then I saw this adorable thing and I'm thinking maybe I should exchange it. He can adopt a whale! And name it. What do you think?
Kareem: I think a whale's gonna be a tough carry-on.
Alvin: Well, it's just a plaque, really. And the proceeds go to a nature fund.
Kareem: Alvin, have you met Kevin? Or any other eight-year-old?
Alvin: On my birthdays, my parents used to make a donation to my favorite charity.
Kareem: Your parents were crazy – no news there.
Alvin: I'll take that as a no, then. Babe, you...you sound a bit pissed.
Kareem: Ya think? You said you were coming home, Alvin!
Alvin: What do you mean? I am. I take off in an hour.
Kareem: Why did the clinic just call me to reschedule your smallpox vaccination?
Alvin: Oh. Well, I guess they couldn't reach me, 'cause my phone was off –
Kareem: Why do you need a smallpox vaccination?
A line of customers has gathered behind Alvin. Birta shoves the red-bowed light saber in his face and jerks her head for him to move aside. He goes to stand next to a magazine rack.
Alvin: It just came up. I was gonna tell you. There's a smallpox outbreak in this little village in Columbia, and we need to set up a field clinic. It's just three months - four at the most.
Kareem: Alvin. You said you were coming home for Christmas. Then you said Easter. Then you swore you wouldn't miss my parents' anniversary. Why should I believe you now?
Alvin: I'm sorry. Things just came up.
Kareem: It's been over a year. I've been fuckin' lonely! All your broken promises – I let 'em slide because, well, you were curing fuckin' AIDS. In fuckin' Africa. And before that you were teaching Pakistani orphans to read.
Alvin: Nobody's perfect?
Kareem: Except you, Alvin. You're Mary fuckin' Poppins. Practically perfect in every way. And you're the only Black man I know with a white savior complex.
Alvin: I'm sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?
Kareem: Don't go to Columbia.
Alvin fingers the red bow, looking stricken.
Alvin: I'm so sorry, Kareem. I have to go. They had a program manager over there, but they need me to replace him.
Kareem: Why, where'd he go?
Alvin: He kind of, uh...got kidnapped by guerrillas.
Kareem: Oh my God. You're gonna wind up dead, just like your parents. I can't do this. I'm done.
Alvin: What do you mean?
Kareem: I mean we're done.
Alvin: But I love you – you know that! Don't you?
There's a moment of silence on the line. Kareem sighs.
Kareem: I believe you do, in your own way. But you're more committed to causes than people. It's over, Alvin. Don't bother coming home. And your winter clothes are going down the garbage chute.
Alvin: You don't mean that.
Kareem: I mean every word.
Alvin: It's a sin to throw away clothes. Give them to Goodwill.
Kareem: Oh my God, Alvin. Goodbye!
The call disconnects.
Alvin is sitting on a plane, in a window seat. The light saber, too long to fit in the overhead bin, is leaning against the wall. Alvin's tray is down; he's resting his elbows on the tray and his head in his hands.
A flight attendant stops at his row, carrying a silver-foiled food tray. She leans over Alvin's neighbor and speaks to Alvin.
Flight Attendant: You ordered a vegetarian meal, sir?
Alvin jumps upright.
Alvin: Oh. Yes, thank you.
Alvin unwraps his food, picks at it for a few seconds, then puts down his fork. He takes out a bottle of Ambien, shakes out two pills, and downs them with water.
He turns on his entertainment screen and browses its content. He taps on an icon labeled "Superheroes".
Alvin is wearing earbuds, watching "Thor: Ragnarok" (copyright Marvel Studios).
On Alvin's entertainment screen, Thor is bound in chains, speaking to Surtur - a horned, black, smoldering giant.
Surtur: Thor, son of Odin.
Thor: Surtur, son of...a bitch, you're still alive! I thought my father killed you a thousand years ago.
Surtur: I cannot die until I fulfill my destiny and lay waste to your home.
Thor: You know, it's funny you should mention that, because I've been having these terrible dreams of late – Asgard up in flames, falling to ruins, and you, Surtur, at the center of all of them.
Surtur: Then you have seen Ragnarok, the fall of Asgard! The great prophecy --
The plane shakes violently. Alvin's screen freezes and his audio is interrupted by a breezy voice on the PA system, speaking in accented English.
Voice on PA: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Nils Olafsson, welcoming you to Icelandair Flight 619. We've reached cruising altitude, but please keep those seatbelts on. There may be a bit of turbulence over the so-called Icelandic Rectangle, but not to worry. Any stories you may have heard are pure myth!
The voice goes into the same message in Icelandic.
Looking alarmed, Alvin turns off his screen. He puts his glasses in his shirt pocket and buttons it. He takes out an inflatable neck pillow and snaps it around his neck.
The plane shudders again; Alvin flinches. He shakes out two more Ambiens and swallows them. He pulls his hood forward and closes his eyes.
Alvin is sleeping soundly, with his arms around the light saber and his cheek leaning against it.
Suddenly all the entertainment screens show static. Lightning zigs past the windows and thunder crashes. The plane jolts wildly. The passengers scream.
Alvin continues to snore peacefully.
The plane plummets through a black sky. Beneath is a roiling sea of clouds, pierced intermittently by jagged peaks in a large circle. A bolt of lightning strikes the plane.
In the gray dawn light, Alvin is floating in the ocean, draped lengthwise over his light saber, still wearing his inflatable neck pillow.
He opens his eyes, looks around in horror, and clutches at his light saber. He lifts his head and squints. In the distance he sees a rocky island.
Still grasping his light saber with his hands, he paddles with his legs toward the island.
Alvin: Stay alive. Stay alive.
Half-dead with exhaustion, Alvin is still weakly paddling.
Alvin: Stay alive. Stay...
Alvin reaches shallow water. He gives a few more kicks and collapses onto the wet sand.
Alvin and the Vikings stare at each other.
At the head of the Viking group is Ulf, gray-haired and wrinkled. To Ulf's right is Sten, young, muscular, with a handsome but battle-scarred face. To Sten's right is Gorm, ancient, small and wiry, wearing a wolf's-head helmet and carrying a wooden staff topped with a carved wolf's-head. Seven other Vikings complete the group, including Leif, Arne and Knut.
Alvin speaks to them in English.
Alvin: Uh...hi. Is this a...like, a...reenactment?
The Vikings converse urgently in Old Norse.
Ulf: What is he? A troll? A demon?
Gorm: If he's a seaman, where's his boat?
Sten lifts an earflap on Gorm's helmet and shouts.
Sten: Demon, Gorm! Demon!
Alvin switches to Icelandic.
Alvin: Is that Old Norse? Nice touch. I guess it's true what they say -- it's just Icelandic with a funny accent.
Alvin struggles onto his hands and knees, panting.
Alvin: Could I get some help, please?
Ulf: He is...Other. Could he have come from Beyond the Snake?
Sten: Impossible! No one ever has.
Gorm: That we know of. The volcano -- perhaps it's a portal. We must understand what this means. It will require careful consideration. Not to mention meditation, rumination, and contemplation.
Ulf: Absolutely. But first -- we kill him.
Sten: My thoughts exactly.
Alvin makes a supreme effort and manages to stand, trembling with cold and exhaustion. His light saber remains on the sand. He's a head taller than the tallest Viking. The Vikings gasp.
Alvin: Hey. If you guys don't mind some notes, that's a bit violent, even for a Viking. You're edging into the realm of caricature.
Knut: A giant! It must be a giant from Jotunheim.
Arne: What's that on his eyes?
Leif: The color. Perhaps it's a Dark Elf?
Sten: Either way, better off dead.
Sten raises his sword and the others lift axes and spears.
Alvin stares at them in alarm and confusion, then snatches up his light saber and thumbs its switch. It flashes for a split second, but fails to light up. Alvin shakes it; some drops of water fly out. He switches it off and on again. It buzzes, then glows a steady orange. Alvin waves it back and forth. It whines like a faulty fluorescent bulb. The Vikings are awe-struck.
Ulf steps forward and slowly reaches out his hand. Alvin reflexively swats his hand away with the light saber, which crackles when it touches Ulf's hand. Ulf falls to the ground.
Alvin and the Vikings are equally horrified.
Sten rushes over and listens for Ulf's breathing. He hears nothing. He looks up at Alvin with murderous fury and leaps to his feet.
Sten: I'll have your skull for a stewpot!
Sten strikes at Alvin's neck with his sword, but Alvin takes a step back and the sword only punctures his neck pillow. The pillow deflates with a wheeze.
Sten lifts his sword again. Alvin screws his eyes shut.
Sten freezes. The Vikings look at Gorm. Alvin opens one eye.
Gorm: I Hear something.
Knut: What is it?
Gorm closes his eyes and concentrates mightily.
Gorm: Yes...yes..."The dark pickle will beget the dragon's rock."
The other Vikings look at each other in confusion.
Sten: Old man, you hear the Norns no better than you hear men. What has this drivel to do with the demon murderer?
Gorm points to the ocean.
Gorm: Pickle. He comes from the salt sea. Well, then!
Sten sneers and lifts his sword higher.
Gorm: Sten, we must consult the Fates further before doing anything rash. You know in the end I am never wrong. In the end.
Sten grits his teeth. Finally he lowers his sword.
Sten, Leif, Arne and Knut are carrying Ulf's body on a makeshift stretcher fashioned out of two spears and leather capes. Sten's face is a struggle of grief and rage. With his free hand, he wipes savagely at his eyes.
Alvin is walking behind them, carrying his glowing light saber, surrounded by four Vikings pointing their weapons at him.
Gorm brings up the rear of the procession.
Alvin: I'm sorry! The old man...I didn't mean...it was an accident. I would never, never hurt anyone.
Arne: His speech falls strangely upon the ear.
Knut: No more than you'd expect from a Dark Elf.
Alvin: I'm not a Dark Elf!
Sten: Silence, vile demon! We will decide what you are.
The Vikings, with Alvin as their prisoner, march along a footpath. They pass a field of ripe barley.
At the edge of the field is Erik – mid-twenties, blond, shirtless and ripped – scything down sheaves of barley. He stops working and stares first at Ulf's lifeless body, then at Alvin.
A ray of sun suddenly pierces a cloud and outlines Erik in a golden halo. Erik and Alvin lock eyes and swivel their heads.
Alvin: Fuck me. It's a young Alexander Skarsgard. I must be dreaming.
One of the Vikings jabs Alvin's back with the tip of his spear. Alvin shakes his head violently and looks back at the path. Then he lifts his chin and his eyes widen.
Alvin: That's it! I'm in a coma. Oh, thank God. Then I didn't kill anyone.
Alvin and his captors enter the village of Bestheim -- a dreary collection of wooden cottages and animal pens, interspersed with muddy paths.
They stop at an empty stable. Sten opens the stable door and the Vikings prod Alvin towards the entrance.
Alvin: Hey! You can't just lock me up. I demand to --
Prodded by spears, Alvin stumbles into the stable.
The Vikings bang the door shut and bar it. Alvin looks out through a slatted window in the top half of the door.
Alvin: Can I have some food and water? Or just water. May I have some water? Please!
Gorm: No one is to go near this...him, until I can Hear clearly.
Sten glares at Alvin with loathing. The Vikings walk away.