Call me lamia, call me lilith, call me nightmare, slattern, slut. I don’t subscribe to labels. I’ve moved around, through many lives, and they’ve always invented new names for me.
When I care to name myself, “succubus” does just fine. It started out as a joke among our little group, the girls who have been doing this job for eons, and it stuck. When I tell you my name, the first time we meet, it’s always one I’ve cherry-picked for you. The name of the person you obsessed over in high school, maybe, the one who never gave you a second glance; the name of an ex, or a professor or old babysitter, or of no one at all, someone new, someone exciting, a fresh canvas for all the filthiest things you ever wanted to do, to say, to slather all over airplane bathrooms and anonymous hotel rooms.
There are countless stories about my kind, though too few are true. Men, obsessed with the allure of their own cocks, often claimed that we came in the night to relieve them of their sperm, for obscure purposes related to the impregnation of human women. Some of the girls have their own fluid-based craft projects, it’s true, but I find their exploits frankly exhausting.
What I want—what most of us want—is far simpler, and gender is immaterial in its pursuit. All I want is a little space in your head. A siphon, giving me a bit of you, ever-flowing: that bit of you that can’t seem to stop thinking about me.
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It’s the nectar that thrums through my veins. It’s the force that keeps what passes for my cold heart ticking. It’s my blood, and it’s my purpose, and I’m lucky among beings of my kind in that it also happens to be my very favorite pastime.
And I’m pleased to report, despite the purges and the bad press over centuries immemorial, that the succubus business is easier now more than ever. We’re thriving. In benighted, bygone eras, times of bad teeth and a lamentable lack of soap, we had to make our own mythologies, weave our own enthralling stories of seduction and forbidden love. The Bard did what he could, but grown men acting like lovelorn teens and sexy sprites didn’t move as many hearts as you might think, and few could obtain the text of such plays, much less read them. A love story like that only took root once in a generation, maybe twice, and it was still all glances and first touches, hardly fodder enough for the fantasies we needed to survive.
But now: now you’ve got love stories crammed into every oversaturated bit of your brains, in flashing, fleshy color, in unfathomable depth. Now you’ve got porn and fanfiction, and your minds are wrapped up, always, in what you could have now, what you could have had then, how much better and more tantalizing your sex lives, your relationships, your chosen kinks could be. I don’t have to do anything more than show up, smiling prettily, filling in blanks and throwing you hints, promising you that I know exactly what you need. (And I do: trust me, my darling, I do.) My job’s half done before we meet.
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Back in the old days, I spent my precious time schlepping through individual dreamscapes, sorting through neuroses and Freudian associations and subconscious cravings, cooking up tempting, tailor-made visions that it took me months to create. Now I just let you friend me on Facebook, on Instagram and Snapchat. I send you little messages that way. I post song lyrics, and they always seem to be about you. We frequent the same bars—you see the location pop up on your notifications, again and again—but I’m always gone by the time you get there. Your friends share reports of how I looked, of what I did, of everyone I talked to, because they still know, all these years later. They feel sorry for the guy you’re with now. You call him your soul mate, you post ten pictures of you both over the next week, tagging every one with heart emojis. You think it makes up for the late night views of my profile (and the way you edit it out of your search history afterward, like scrubbing dirt out of a wound), but it exposes you, all the same.
I post endless selfies, in clubs and on beaches, whoever I’m with just out of frame, or bunched up in a grinning group, limbs all entwined, so you can never tell who I’m dating, if I’m dating anyone at all. I give you all of my best angles, 360 degrees and 300+ days of me, live and relatively unfiltered. I change my hair and you can’t stop thinking about what it would look like, splayed out on your pillows. I get a new tattoo, running down my side, and of course you can’t help but picture me naked, can’t help your compulsive need to trace every fresh line with your tongue.
They’re easy illusions, more instant than ever, more entrancing than any hazy dream could be. A flick of the wrist, and the spell is cast. I press my finger to the phone, and your day is lost to thoughts of me, to reveries you can refresh, revisit in touchable pixels, over and over, alone in your room, or even with him, the glowing images angled away from his gaze as you watch TV on the couch. You’ll never forget my face, because all you have to do is reload it. No faded daguerreotypes for you. No perfume-scented letters. Now digital bits of me run through your bloodstream, and you’ll be plugged into them forever.
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Some of the girls lament the loss of what they call craft. Me, I prefer it this way. A little worship, here and there. Different flavors of longing I can dip into, take what I need. I try not to revisit one well too often: but somehow, these days, you’re the one whose profile I keep stumbling into, whose likes I keep looking out for on my feed as I savor the notifications. You’re a doctor, nearing forty, a woman with brown eyes no kinder or wiser than anyone else’s, with conversation no more captivating, a body no more memorable or unflagging. It’s happened before, this feedback loop. It never means anything. It’s like food between your teeth: something caught, something you wriggle around with your tongue. There’s no reason for you to stand out. There’s nothing special about you. I know all the tricks. There’s nothing more alluring about you than the rest, but there you are anyway, popping into my reveries, uninvited.
We traveled through France together, making love in every cramped hostel from Calais to Montségur, back when you were twenty-two, and you never told him about it. You think I live in your city, when really I live all over, though I do always spend more time here than I intend to, in this sprawling metropolis by the bay. We meet maybe once every six or eight months now, for lunch somewhere no one you know ever goes, because you’re the type who likes to stay in touch, risky as that might be. You’re sweet that way, the way you think we can pretend to be friends, even though you spend the entire meal fighting the urge to tear off my clothes and pin me against my chair, to tell me you’re leaving him and you want to go around the world again, around and around with me.
And I find myself wanting to see you. Not just for the delicious aura, the wanting coming from you in waves (though I do dearly crave that too). I want to talk to you. I want to hear the stories behind all those pictures you posted these past few months, the ones I can’t seem to stop scrolling through. I want to know about him, and I want to assure myself of how little he matters to you, when you’re faced with the reality of me. I want to get back into your skull, though I know you’ll never truly push me out, not for long.
You ask me how I’m doing, sometimes. I always say I’m doing well. And I am: I’ve got a thousand of you stashed in every city, ready to be picked up and tossed aside at any time. I infect your minds, but you don’t obsess mine. I think of other things than your desires, your needs. Your fantasies, your secrets, your fetishes and fears.
I’m getting hobbies. I’m taking trips. I always end up working, it’s true, because I crave that contact, that confirmation, even when I don’t need it to live: just a sip, just a taste, here and there. But I’m self-actualized. Your lust may be my sustenance, but I take my pleasures elsewhere.
Though that feels harder, sometimes, than it was in days of yore.
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You see, my love, the only problem with the new way of doing things—the wrinkle in the silk, the fly in the ointment—is that these relationships, these networks, they’re reciprocal. They didn’t used to be. I came to you: you never came to me. I don’t dream, don’t even sleep, so you could never reach me there. I barely bothered to learn your names, much less your likes, your moods, your favorite bands and colors, unless it served my purpose.
But this new world is half real, half simulation, and even I find it difficult to snake my way out of its embraces. If I want access to you, you have access to me. And you—you, Eiko Blow of San Francisco, mother of two, medical director of a prestigious midsize hospital, one-time record holder of most absinthe shots downed without vomiting at a certain disreputable establishment in Marseille—you, for algorithmic reasons defying understanding, keep running through my mind like a pesky subroutine. Sucking energy. Distracting me from my work.
I know why, of course. It’s only temporary. It’s because you cut off those nourishing tendrils of desire, that little web of want woven from the unique entanglement of me plus you. But you can’t destroy it. Not for long. I only have to wait. Though patience, I will admit, has never been my strong suit.
The last time I saw you, in a Starbucks on Market Street, you told me you wouldn’t see me anymore. You told me you wouldn’t be there the next time I messaged, the next time I called, that it wasn’t healthy for you to see me, even in backlit glimpses, that your therapist and your sister and your best friend had all told you to give me up. I knew it wasn’t true: but then you disconnected, online. You left a blank space, a void on my list. And it hurt.
Do you understand that? Let’s not get dramatic, it wasn’t like losing a limb—more like pulling out hair, hard and fast, in a tiny bunch—but it made me grit my teeth. You’ve gone and made me paranoid. I’ve started downloading data from the rest of them, all the others caught up in my cloud. Folders and folders of photos, of vintage Livejournal posts and Flickr albums and scraps from all the other shady corners of the Internet, the ones where relics of old loves lie.
But it’s like milking a stone: it’s nowhere near as good, as writhingly fresh, as the thrill of a new update, as that frisson of lust and need jolting me from a thousand miles away, vibrating from your mind up through my phone at any time, day or night. It’s made me angry, Eiko. And though I have countless others to choose from, there’s no one I want to scream at more than you.
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I keep finding myself on your street: in real life, not on the dream roads, not on Google Maps. You told me about the apartment when you bought it, about the travails of finding a three-bedroom in a rapidly gentrifying tech wasteland, but I’ve never been inside. Never come over for a glass of wine or an awkward dinner party. You wouldn’t dare, not right under his nose. Others would, but you’re too good. Too conscientious. You think you are, anyway, as they all do, right up until the moment when they fall.
I long to cross the threshold, to leave notes under your pillow: to see the way you live, and convince myself to do it for a decade, maybe two. I’ve done it before, lived a stretch in that itchy human garb. Learned the rhythms of longer games of love. It has its pleasures. It always bores me, in the end, but I’d consider it, Eiko. I might do it this time, for a long time, if that was what you wanted.
I keep staring at your windows, searching for signs of you inside. I keep thinking of that night we got lost in Paris, in the pouring rain, and you kept laughing even though it wasn’t funny, though all of our maps and guidebooks were soaked, and we gave up on finding our hostel and paid far too much for a grand old hotel with claw-foot tubs and gilded draperies and a free glass of wine at the bar downstairs. If it meant another morning like that, of waking to find you beside me, the gray sunlight cutting across your form, a smile on your face as you slept: I think I’d do it. For a little while. Just to let this craving run its course. Just until I’d had my fill. Until I was certain you’d never try to forget me again.
But I haven’t seen you pass by where I wait in shadows, even though I come around when you should just be getting home: even though I’m there, some mornings, when I know you should be going off to work. There’s no hint of you, nothing in the air. I haven’t caught your scent in weeks, and I’m starting to think, Eiko, that you may be gone. That you timed your leaving me for some other departure: another job, in some distant city. A reason for you to go off with him, whatever his name is, to start over fresh. A chance to believe you’ve left me far in the past, where you’ll never have to pass another restaurant where we dined together, never have to chance me crossing your path, calling your name, insinuating myself back into your life.
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You’ll be back. I’m sure of it. You won’t forget, won’t resist the pull, not forever, not even for that long. The id’ll always get you: that is what we succubi know. And it’s simpler than ever to slip. You’ll think you’re past it, that you’re over me for good, and then you’ll see something. A pulse, a trace. A friend of a friend of a friend will friend me, a co-worker will connect with me on LinkedIn if I have to stoop that low, and my photo will surface in your feed. You’ll wonder how they know me. You’ll wonder how I’ve changed. You’ll pick up the device that can connect you to me in moments, and heed its siren call.
Because here’s the dirty little secret, Eiko: until your dying day, you will think of me. You want to believe there’s certainty, at the end. Peace in a life well lived, in a partner well chosen, the right moves made, the moral code respected. But until the very last, you’ll have a picture of the life that could have been, the life with me, playing through your head, projecting out across his skin as soon as the lights go low.
I’ve looped around this mortal coil countless times. I’ve seen them all, the long-marrieds and the never-aparts and the til-our-last-breathers, and they all stumble. All wish, all want, all obsess and obfuscate. All wonder, right up until their very end, until the last heartbeat passes from palm to palm. I promise it’s true, if nothing else I’ve said is.
You’re lost to him anyway, doll. You might as well get lost with me.
Until then: I’ll keep refreshing. Until then, I’ll bide my time. Because dreams won’t do it for me anymore. I’ve tried to go back to the old ways, once or twice, but they’ve lost their luster. This wide world is so much better. This shining plane is so much more. So tell me, Eiko, as your hand twitches inches from the laptop, as I wait for your message here, a touch, a tap, a fingertip away: what are you waiting for?
(Editors’ Note: Katharine Duckett is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)
© 2018 by Katharine Duckett