About the Author

Jonathan Auxier

Books by this Author
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
Excerpt

"Nan, tell us about the Sweep.”
It was dark in the coal bin, but Nan could tell it was Newt who was asking. Newt was newest to Crudd’s crew. He was barely six years old; he didn’t know all the rules. The first rule was you never asked another climber about his life Before.
There were five climbing boys in the coal bin: Newt, Whittles, Shilling-Tom, Roger, and Nan. Nan wasn’t a boy, but you’d never know that to look at her. She was as grimy as the rest of them. “Who told you about the Sweep?” Nan said. “Was it Roger?”
“Keep me out of it, Cinderella,” Roger muttered. He called Nan “Cinderella” because he thought it annoyed her. He was right.
“No one told me,” Newt said. “I dreamed about him. Last night I slept in your corner. I dreamed him and the girl were both singing to all the people. Only I woke up before I could hear the words.”
This was a thing that happened: the dreaming. Every so often one of the boys would say that he had dreamed about the Sweep. Nan couldn’t explain it. It seemed to happen whenever one of them fell asleep close to her. All she knew was that she didn’t like it. The Sweep was hers.
“It was about you, wasn’t it?” Newt whispered. “You’re the girl from my dream.”
“No,” Nan said. “I’m the girl who wants to go to sleep.” She’d spent fourteen hours climbing chimneys and knew there were more waiting for her tomorrow.
“You’re splashing in the wrong puddle, Newt,” said a raspy voice by the slat window. It was Whittles. He was only eight, but his voice sounded like an old man’s on account of breathing too much chimney soot. “Me and Shilling-Tom been dreaming about the girl and her Sweep for years. Not once have we gotten Nan to fess up that it’s her.”
“Aye,” said Shilling-Tom. He was Whittles’s best mate. “You might as well try to get a second helping from Trundle’s pot.” Trundle was the woman who cared for them. If you could call it that. “I won’t fess up because it’s nonsense,” Nan said. And it was nonsense. How could two people have the same dream?
“Is the Sweep a real person?” Newt asked. “He sounds lovely. Much nicer than Master Crudd.” He whispered this last bit. Just in case Crudd could hear him upstairs.
“Sweeps aren’t supposed to be lovely,” Nan said. “They’re grimy and tough as stone. Just like chimneys.” Maybe lovely was a fine thing to call a person in Newt’s old life, but he was a climber now. He wouldn’t last long if he kept using words like that.
She heard the boy move closer. “Please, Nan?” Her eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and she could see the outline of his head. With his curls shaved of, he really did look like a newt. They had named him well. “Just tell me if he’s real. I promise I won’t tell the others.”
“Don’t beg. A climber never begs.” That was another rule.
“Maybe I can sleep here next to you?” He clasped her arm. “Then I’ll dream about him all on my own?”
Nan knew what the boy was saying. He thought that some-how the dreams were coming from her, which was impossible. She pulled away. “Find your own corner.”
“Aw, go easy on the kid.” It was Whittles. “It’s only been a week since he . . . you know . . .” He didn’t say the rest. None of them knew what had happened to Newt’s family to have him end up here, but it had to have been bad. It was always bad.
“I’m not begging,” Newt said. “But it’s a true fact: I can’t sleep without a bedtime story. My mummy always says . . .” He corrected himself. “. . . always said . . .” His voice faltered. “It’s just I thought hearing a story about the Sweep might help me fall asleep.”
Nan remembered when she had felt the same way. That was a long time ago. That was Before.

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