Marshall was a prisoner, in a very specific kind of prison. The kind built by sorcerers for sorcerers.
Laws don't work the same way for sorcerers but let's just say Marshall was standing trial while in prison.
But rather than a dark dungeon, this sorcerer-prison was brightly lit, designed with a fully white palette that's more comforting than threatening.
The coziness was almost tempting. If you want to lock someone powerful in here, the least you could do is to make it slightly enticing.
Marshall has grown a long beard over time here. His excuse was trying out a new style, but mostly because he did not care anymore.
Marshall can speak but no one can hear him. The penitentiary curse made sure of that.
Not everyone was given the same punishment. The sorcerer council was worried that what Marshall had to say was too difficult to decipher and end up grinding the magic community to a halt.
One day Marshall had a visitor. It was Danny, his best friend.
Marshall was overjoyed to have a visitor, but he was conscious enough to put up a brave front, not wanting to appear beaten down in front of his buddy.
"This is ridiculous. I can't hear you. Guard, come on, can you do something about this?" Danny complained.
"There's nothing I can do sir. Rules are rules." said one of the guards.
"What's the point of me visiting when... oh goddammit." Danny gave up trying.
Marshall looked on helplessly but smiling at the whole dysfunction. He was glad a friend visited. He did not mind if they were just there making funny faces.
They carried on. Jokes from Danny were one-sided. Marshall wished he could respond with more than laughter but he occasionally slipped into thoughts about how he ended up in this situation.
Half an hour in, Danny needed to leave.
"It's time. I'm giving you something, make sure you read it." said Danny, looking deadly serious.
"Read what?" thought Marshall.
Danny casually took out a small piece of paper, making sure no one saw him. He scrunched it into a tiny ball and flicked it inside Marshall's pocket before leaving.
Marshall got back to his cell.
He opened up the paper. Written there was a spell, a complicated one that he had never seen before.
Should he try this? Would it even work here? He did not even know what it does, what if it's malicious? It came from Danny so that must mean something.
Marshall recited the spell.
He did not know what to expect. Maybe the magic blocker got in the way of this too.
"This is silly, shouldn't have taken this seriously," thought Marshall.
A knock sounded. Marshall checked the door. Nothing.
Another knock. It did not sound like it came from the door. Marshall turned and looked at the sink.
The knock came from the mirror.
What's on the other side of the mirror looked nothing like his cell.
There's another man in the mirror. He had grey hair, looked suspiciously like Marshall but more charismatic.
Marshall could not believe what he saw. He tilted his head, hoping the other end would follow. It didn't.
Marshall realized now he was in a magical video call.
"Hello?" Marshall said cautiously.
"Whoa," Marshall gasped. He sounded exactly like Marshall himself.
"Yes I am the future you. I'm now 68 years-old. I can hear you just fine, nobody else can so don't worry about being found out." said Old-Marshall.
"Did you arrange this?" asked Marshall.
Old-Marshall acted as if he didn't hear that.
"We have only a few minutes, kid. Make it count."
This was a spell Marshall never heard of, but it didn't surprise himself either.
"Go on, ask me what you wanna know." old-Marshall smiles.
"Am I gonna get out of here soon?" Marshall asked.
"You can do better than a question like that. Come on, we don't have all day. Ask me something real."
Marshall hesitated. Old-Marshall was himself after all, there's no point talking about the weather.
"Am I... am I slow-failing?" Marshall asked.
"Now that's more like it." Old-Marshall was delighted. He continues.
"You are now firmly locked in a cell, technically you are already a failure, so no you're not slow-failing."
"But man you know what I mean. Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? Have I been living up to my potential? Have you?"
Old-Marshall looked away for quite some time.
"You know I thought about this quite awhile. At some point I decided failure is guaranteed if I'm rigid enough with what my goals are. I stopped measuring myself against my goals. Instead I focus on the process, I make sure I succeed in doing the tough work."
"So if you brush your teeth, you won't be a slow failure, kid." Old-Marshall wanted to reassure him.
But there's more in Marshall's mind.
"Did I play my life too straight? Have I been too wholesome?"
"How do you mean?"
Old-Marshall knew exactly what he meant but he wanted Marshall to spell it out.
Marshall took a while to collect his thoughts.
"All my life I've been a good student of magic. I've been ethical with every spell I casted. I worked at advancing the state of magic."
Marshall turned vengeful.
"But none of that matters the moment the mob decides some spells are no longer acceptable. It doesn't matter when I casted it to prevent a bigger disaster. I ended up being punished for what I casted, my intentions didn't count for a thing."
"Son, the road to hell..." Old-Marshall didn't bother finishing the phrase. He continues.
"Your error was that you counted on people to be reasonable. Playing it straight works out fine if you are the only actor. But that's not the real world."
"Against irrational agents, rules change. You can't play by the same ones that got you where you are."
"Therefore when the sorcerer council decided I must rot in jail forever, I broke out."
Marshall was surprised. As far as he knows, the council had not made their decision on Marshall's punishment. He was hoping they would come to their senses.
"Knowing what you know now, you have no choice but to break out of this prison. At some point." said Old-Marshall.
Marshall felt conflicted. On one hand he was being told to risk being a fugitive sorcerer for the rest of his life, but on the other he was excited to be given a mission.
He only wished he had the courage to have come with the mission himself instead of given one.
"When you set out to do something, you always get it done, that's what I like about you." says Old-Marshall.
Old-Marshall faded away from the mirror. Marshall sees himself once again, unkempt and dirty.
This time he looked closer. He noticed qualities that were not there before. He cannot tell what those were but was curious enough to find out.
He proceeded to shave himself clean. He no longer felt imprisoned.
This piece was prompted by the writing group Desk Drawer.