Sunlight flickers over mirrors in a smoky room as people on Wesson Street walk past outside. Venetian blinds, angled obliquely, keep the room dim and cool, and a green-shaded banker's lamp on a wooden desk is the only direct light source. A sallow-skinned man reclines in a leather chair that angles and moves like a dentist's chair, one arm hanging limply over the side and the other held in the hands of the Needle. Speakers mounted in the high corners of the room throb with bass-heavy music, slow and languid; music heard through the amniotic sac by the foetus in the womb, heavy with the potential of birth. A lingering perfume, African Violet, inundates the senses and seeps through the pores of the skin; a man leaving the offices of the Needle carries something of their somnolence with him for hours afterwards, even a hot shower is not enough to purge it.
Needle looks at the image on the paper below the banker's lamp, fixing it afresh in his mind, and adjusts a mirror. The reflection of the tattoo taking shape on the man's shoulder quivers and the man moans, a low sound, throaty and primal, giving voice to a chthonic pain that has existed before he incarnated it and will continue to exist even after he's left. Needle lifts the gun, slender and silver, gracile and filigree and the placing of his fingers selects the next ink. He brings it to the man's shoulder and depresses a hidden trigger. Tiny needles, each a delicate hollow spine of steel, lash out, barely penetrating the skin, injecting iridescent ink between the layers. Colour blooms and like clouds resolving themselves into shapes before the dreaming eyes of the visionary the image from the paper recreates itself a little more on the living canvas of skin. The mirrors of pain record it all in the transient realm on the other side, and Needle's skin tingles with the intensity of it all.
The door opens and sunlight washes across the room, burning out the reflections in the mirrors in a brilliant unified flash of light. Needle recoils, his skin flushing red as though sunburnt, and the man in the chair moans again and stirs slightly. His eyelids start to open and his eyes flicker, a sleeper awakening from a dream so realistic it feels like dying to leave it. Then the door swings shut behind the newcomer and the light is gone again and the man in the chair relaxes once more. Needle looks up, purplish eyes trying to focus on the here-and-now and only slowly succeeding. The image for the tattoo slowly gives way to a nearly shapeless figure swaddled in robes. Black shoes on tiny feet support it; brown hands barely emerge from long sleeves and clutch a scrapbook, and a dark bar near the top allows someone to look out without letting others look in. Needle nods slowly, this is Wesson Street and many people wish to come here without the hindrance of having to bring their identity with them.
"It has been foretold that I would come here," says the figure, and although the voice is breathy and hoarse Needle is sure that a woman is speaking. "And here I shall find a man with mirrors of pain."
Needle raises an arm and waves slowly in front of him, encompassing the room and the many mirrors arranged about it, all reflecting a different angle of his art. The woman in the robes lifts her scrapbook, angling it towards her head, and opens it. The pages slide softly across from one side of the book to the other sounding like serpents mating until she finds a page not too far from the beginning, and a thin brown finger runs across the page from right to left. Arabic words fill the air, somehow fitting to the throb of the music, and though she starts off hesitantly, she quickly finds a rhythm and her voice deepens, augmenting the melody and counterpointing the beat. Needle has no idea what the words mean, but he can feel the reality on the other side of the mirror twisting and knows with a dreadful certainty that the man in the chair is dying.
The woman pauses, and the music stops as well. Needle starts to turn to the table, under which sits the stereo system, wondering what has caused it to break, but she speaks in English again, arresting his attention.
"I am Noura, and I can complete this invocation or I can reverse it. The choice is yours: will you help me?"
"Isn't it foretold already?" Needle regrets the sarcasm as soon as he's said it, but here and now words have power and a life of their own.
"Both choices have been foretold," says Noura, her finger sliding over the page of the scrapbook still. "But only one can be made, the future must be decided here, in front of the mirrors of pain."
"And if I choose wrongly?"
"It doesn't matter what you choose. I will make the next choice and converge the paths."
As Needle nods his head, silently agreeing to help her and save the life of his customer, he sees all the mirrors in the room suddenly filled with a pair of bleeding, hungry eyes and knows that Noura was lying. Then the music restarts and he must tend to the man in the chair, bring him back from the edge and make him live again in order to complete the tattoo.