"The mescal sat in his stomach like some unholy incubus"
The Nightmare, by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1781)
Public DomainThe Nightmare, by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1781) - Credit: Detroit Institute of Fine Arts

An incubus is a demon in male form, said to lie upon female sleepers in order to have sex with them. In the Middle Ages, the existence of incubi was recognised by law.

McCarthy frequently uses the image in his novels, employing it in a sense more closely related to its original Latin root incubare (‘to lie upon’) as something incumbent, something malicious lying upon or within.

Coloured aquatint showing sleeping woman being attacked by incubi (1870)
Public DomainColoured aquatint showing sleeping woman being attacked by incubi (1870) - Credit: Charles Walker