Stewart woke up, blinking. He didn't feel groggy like he did most mornings. His head felt clear and fresh. He looked out his window and saw snow gently falling. A beautiful winter day, he thought.
He remembered that he was supposed to do a video call this morning with someone who wanted to interview him for a job. He quickly got out of bed and grabbed a suit coat from his closet. He patted down his hair as he walked to his home office where he could take the call. He didn't want to be late because the job would be a promotion from his current dead-end position.
He sat down at his desk, opened his laptop, and started to load the video call. But wait a minute, he thought. Today is Christmas Eve, right? Why is he getting interviewed for a promotion on Christmas Eve? Isn't everyone on vacation now? He thought back but he couldn't remember who this interview was with. He didn't have time to remember because the call had already loaded.
He found himself looking into the eyes of the interviewer. His eyes were as a flame of fire, steady, unblinking, and sure. The intensity unnerved Stewart, but he knew that he had to do his best to try to get the promotion.
"Stewart," the interviewer said simply. "I am Gabriel. I'll be interviewing you for your promotion."
"Nice to meet you," Stewart said, trying to smile. He never liked the small talk that was required during these business calls, and the costant efforts to make a good impression, especially on a video call like this.
"Stewart," Gabriel said again, "what is most important to you?"
Stewart considered this for a moment. Businessmen were always looking for a diplomatic answer, a five year plan, an ambition that lined up perfectly with their profit motives and company culture and all their ridiculous notions. Stewart couldn't really come up with something that he thought would resonate well, especially since he still couldn't remember who it was that had arranged this interview. So, he just said the first thing that occurred to him. "To be useful: to use all my gifts and powers to make the world better, to give gifts to faraway times, and to brighten the souls of my brothers."
Gabriel nodded, apparently satisfied. Still looking directly at Stewart with his flamelike intensity, he continued. "How do you tie your shoes?"
Stewart chuckled. "How do I what? Tie my shoes?" Gabriel nodded, apparently solemn, but Stewart thought he could see a little hint of a smile at the corner of Gabriel's mouth. Well, Stewart thought, what do I have to lose? If the interview doesn't go well I can just close my laptop and go to enjoy Christmas Eve with my family, and forget all about it. He scooted back a little from the camera until he was far enough away that Gabriel could see his shoes. A little self-consciously, but still seriously, he tied his shoes so Gabriel could see. Still solemn, Gabriel observed, and nodded again.
"Very good," Gabriel said. "What is your greatest fear?"
Again, Stewart was floored by the strange question. Again, he just decided to answer forthrightly. "Failure. I fear that those I love will consider me a failure, and that I will know that I've been worthless."
Gabriel nodded. He continued with a few more questions, about his habits, preferences, thoughts, behaviors, and idiosyncracies. None of it seemed very relevant to any kind of promotion Stewart could imagine getting. He answered in the best way he could think of, always striving simply for plain speaking and honesty.
The whole thing was over pretty quickly. At the end, Gabriel looked briefly at his notes, nodded again, and said, "Everything seems to be in order. We think you're the right candidate for the promotion."
Stewart wasn't sure how to ask it, so he just blurted out "What is this position that I'm interviewing for?"
Gabriel didn't seem surprised that Stewart was unaware of the purpose of the interview. He took a deep breath and began to explain. "We're looking to hire a new demi-god for your region."
"A what? Demi-what??" Stewart couldn't believe it, and didn't really understand it.
Gabriel was still nonplussed, as if he had explained this all many times before. "God has been busy with some important and urgent matters. We've been hiring demi-gods to manage local affairs, regional concerns, and of course the millions of prayer requests we get annually. You'll have the full latitude of godly powers in your region, and you'll be free to exercise them as you see fit given local culture and constraints." He stopped, still solemn, still looking at him with eyes of flame.
Stewart clutched his heart and shivered, and felt his mind moaning in agony as he realized what had happened. He leaned back in his desk chair, eyes towards the heavens and face contorted in infinite sorrow. It was over! His body was spent and cold, and he was now reduced to this - consorting with ghosts! He had crashed back to the dust and he would never have a chance in life to soar!
"Gabriel!" he cried. "Oh Gabriel! Let it not be so! Let me have a little more time! My family is young and I didn't even have a chance to say goodbye. Oh Gabriel. Oh Gabriel!" He cupped has face in his hands as he realized he would never have another chance to hold his wife in his arms, or see her tender eyes looking at his with trust and love.
Gabriel did not seem surprised by this either. He looked down, and exhaled. "I understand your feeling. Very well." He exhaled again, thoughtfully. "For now, we'll give the promotion temporarily to another candidate. Actually he's here with me now. Lingsong, please come over here and sit with me. This is Lingsong. Lingsong, this is Stewart. You can take his position and stewardship temporarily until Stewart is ready."
Lingsong acknowledged Stewart and then turned to Gabriel. "How long until Stewart takes the position?" Gabriel considered this, then answered "Not long. I think a few decades, or maybe four, should be enough for Stewart to put his affairs in order and feel ready. At that time Stewart can step in and we'll find something else for you."
Lingsong nodded, ready to accept this. He turned to Stewart, and said "Seek success every day. But make sure you know what success is." Lingsong smiled, as if pleased to be released from a long labor. With that, it was over. Gabriel said a short goodbye and said that he would speak to him again when he was ready for the promotion. The video call ended. Stewart closed his eyes and thought about what he had just seen.
A stabbing pain shot through his chest! He opened his eyes and saw, not his desk, not Gabriel or Lingsong, but two nervous men in medical outfits, who were bending over him as he lay in bed. He realized that he was in his bed again. He looked beyond the frantic medical men and he saw his wife, distraught and crying uncontrollably. She saw him open his eyes and her face transformed. "Oh Stewart! You're here! You're back! You were dead! We thought you were lost. You're found again! Oh Stew!"
She ran to him, pushing the medical men aside, and embraced him. "Oh I'm so glad you're alive!"
The men backed away, clearly unhappy to lose the spotlight, but smug because they felt they had saved the day. "Well then," one of them said pompously. "Our work here is done. We'll leave you two now. Glad to be of service to you. Glad we could do our work so well." He probably would have continued congratulating himself but his slightly less smug partner was rushing him out of the room. They left and Stewart and his wife were left alone to be united again.
The stabbing pain in Stewart's chest eventually subsided, and before long he felt like he was back to normal, at least physically. His wife told him everything, but he had already guessed it. When she woke up, he was cold and seemed dead. She called an ambulance and assumed they were too late. And then, with no explanation - here he was again. He embraced her for a long time, looked into her eyes to tell her he loved her, and they shared a sweet Christmas Eve with their children.
Stewart looked up local obituaries later and found that, just as he expected, a man named Lingsong in his city had died on Christmas Eve.
Stewart's children grew and left home. He and his wife grew old and his wife passed away. He often thought of Lingsong's advice, and how to know what success was, and how to seek and find it. One day when Stewart was full of years, when he had completed all his work, when his family was safe and self-sufficient, he laid down, died, and took his promotion.