‘It was a common punishment in Imperial China,’ said O’Brien.
Winston sat bound to the chair, a mask was closing on his face,. Beyond the mask was the cage which held the rats. And nothing Winston was more afraid of then rats.
Then Winston suddenly understood that there was just one person to whom he could transfer his punishment — one body that he could thrust between himself and the rats.
And he was shouting frantically, over and over.
‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’
As Winston shouted Julia’s name, he felt he was falling backwards away from the rats. Although strapped in the chair, it seemed he had fallen through the floor, through the walls of the building, through the earth, through the oceans, through the atmosphere, into outer space, into the gulfs between the stars — always away, away, away from the rats.
He was light years distant, but O’Brien was still standing at his side. There was still the cold touch of wire against his cheek. But through the darkness that enveloped him he heard another metallic click, and knew that the cage door had clicked shut and not open.