Guest Post: Evolution of a Story by Cheryl Headford

Inspiration for stories come from all kinds of places, and sometimes it takes me on some strange journeys. My chains of thought are often…interesting, and it was certainly the case with Project X.

It all started with a train journey to work. On the train, I was pondering a conversation two boys were having about computer hacking and wondered if there was a story in there somewhere. I didn’t think it would be up my street, so I put it on the back burner.

Once off the train, I had to walk through town to get to the office. I was wandering along, window shopping, when I came across a mannequin in a shop window. I don’t often get excited by mannequins, but this one got me. It caught my attention because it was so lifelike. There were three mannequins altogether, two girls and a boy. It was the boy that gripped me.

The mannequin was sitting with one knee up resting its chin on its hand. Behind him was a poster of a boy wearing the same clothes. Both the boy and the mannequin had such sad and distant expressions! I stood and looked at them both for a while, captivated. I can’t even say now what it was that hooked me so much. Whatever it was, it stayed with me as I walked on.

I wondered what might have happened to the boy to make him look so sad and distant. Just about then, I walked past a really old police station and the conversation about hacking came back. As often happens with me, a conversation started inside my head between a boy, who was in trouble for hacking an important computer, and his best friend.

Then the conversation changed to the hacker not being at the police station, but warning his friend that he’d found something on a computer and they were both in danger. By the time I got to work, I had a sketch in my head of two college guys. One was a computer expert and the other wasn’t. The non-hacker got a call from his friend to say he’d hacked into a computer at an institution he was working at and had found a terrible secret. He went on the run, and his friend had to get to him and sort the situation out.

At that point, I had no idea what had been found and no idea what could be done to resolve it.

The next day, I was sitting on the train and heard a group of youngsters talking about someone at their school who was a stuck-up, arrogant bastard. He thought he was something special just because his father was rich. Right there, Morgan Bentley was born.

When I got to work, I opened the computer and typed “Morgan Bentley was a bastard.” That was and is the first line of Project X.

At that point, I had no idea who Morgan Bentley was and how he fit into the picture. I started writing, exploring who Morgan Bentley was through the eyes of someone who hated him. I still had the hacker story in mind, but I didn’t know how Morgan fit into it because he wasn’t the sort of person who would be into hacking.

Morgan and his hater, Matthew, turned out to be law students, which was a bit of a surprise, and Morgan underwent a transformation.

When I was at law school, I was fascinated by a boy who was in a lot of my classes. He had long black hair and more of a rock than a goth vibe. He’d come from Cambridge University, which is one of the most prestigious universities in the country. There were all kinds of rumours as to who he was and how he’d ended up in Pontypridd. Unlike Morgan, he was rather anti-social. I never did get to know much about him.

So, Morgan became an enigmatic, hot, sexy goth guy–exactly my type, and Matthew, was a pretty “normal” college guy who is covering up the fact he’s jealous of–and in love with–Morgan. Neither of them was right for a hacker.

By then, Cory had appeared, and he was perfect. When he got the internship with Morgan’s father’s company, it was a perfect opportunity for hacking. But what could he find?

Cory’s loves were computers and biology, so it would have to be something that combined those. The true meaning of Project X was as much a surprise to me as I hope it will be to my readers.

Excerpt from Project X:

“The big deal, Matthew…” Morgan spoke slowly, his face set and his eyes flashing, “is that your friend betrayed my trust. He hacked into my computer, opened files I’ve shown to no one else—no one—and threw my hospitality back in my face. What he does with the information is irrelevant.”

“I-I’m sorry, Morgan. I swear I didn’t mean to do it. I just…I didn’t think.”

“I suggest you learn to think before you start working at ITM. Because if you even consider doing something like this when you’re there, you’re going to be in more trouble than you can begin to imagine.”

“Are you threatening my friend?” Without even realising it, I was on my feet, facing him down, my own anger rising to meet his.

“It’s not a threat, Matthew,” he said quietly. “It’s a warning, and one he’d better heed. These people are not to be messed with.”

These people are your own father. Are you telling me he’s a crook? Doing some dodgy dealings he doesn’t want the world to find out about?”

Morgan went even paler, if that was possible. “Hacking into the computer of a multinational company that deals with contracts from the government is not a smart thing to do, Matthew. I’d have thought even you would have realised that. And it has nothing to do with what they have to hide, or why.”

“Oh, for fuck sake, get over yourself. Get down off your high horse, why don’t you, and try mixing with real people once in a while?”

“Real people?” Morgan closed his eyes and shook his head. When he opened them again, they had a dangerous glint. “You don’t get it, do you? Why is it that your friend has been playing a very dangerous game, hacking into computers, betraying the trust placed in him…by the company, by me…and yet somehow, I’m the bad guy here?

“This isn’t a game. It isn’t downloading free music from the Internet, or copying CD’s, or engaging in a little plagiarism in an essay. This is serious stuff, and if he’s caught, there will be serious consequences. You don’t mess with these people. They are not nice.”

“If your father’s anything like you, I can believe it.”

Morgan winced as if I’d slapped him, and it gave me cruel satisfaction. He went still for a minute. Then he murmured, so quietly I barely heard, “My father is nothing like me.” He turned his back and walked to the window. “I think you’d better go. Take the notes and work on them yourself. We can combine notes on Thursday. I’ll meet you in the library.”

I stared at him for a while, but he didn’t turn around. Grabbing Cory by the shoulder, I steered him out of the room, out of the house and out of the situation. Gods, I hated Morgan Bentley.

Morgan Bentley is a bastard. Matthew knows this absolutely—until he doesn’t.

Matthew and his friend Cory are thrilled to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the UK. On their pre-entry visit, they met Morgan Bentley and his stuck-up friends. Matthew takes an instant dislike to the arrogant, conceited, self-obsessed, beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic boy. Throughout the next year, Matthew harbors his dislike, never missing the opportunity to complain to his best friend, Cory, what a bastard Morgan is.

Then, an unexpected turn of events catapults Matthew, Morgan, and Cory into a nightmare, and all the things Cory had said about Matthew’s true feelings about Morgan come crashing down on his head, and he realizes that what he thought was hatred and anger was, in fact, growing attraction and begrudging admiration. But when the deadly nature of the elusive Project X is revealed, it seems their budding romance is doomed before it begins, as one of them is unlikely to survive.

Available now from eXtasy Books.

Cheryl Headford was born into a poor mining family in the South Wales Valleys. Until she was 16, the toilet was at the bottom of the garden and the bath hung on the wall. Her refrigerator was a stone slab in the pantry, and there was a black lead fireplace in the kitchen. They look lovely in a museum but aren’t so much fun to clean.

Cheryl has always been a storyteller. As a child, she’d make up stories for her family, and they’d explore the imaginary worlds she created in play.

Later in life, Cheryl became the storyteller for a re-enactment group who traveled widely, giving a taste of life in the Iron Age. As well as having an opportunity to run around hitting people with a sword, she had an opportunity to tell stories of all kinds, sometimes of her own making, to all kinds of people. The criticism was sometimes harsh, especially from the children, but the reward enormous.

It was here she began to appreciate the power of stories and the primal need to hear them. In ancient times, the wandering bard was the only source of news, and the storyteller was the heart of the village, keeping the lore and the magic alive. Although much of the magic has been lost, the stories still provide a link to the part of us that still wants to believe that it’s still there, somewhere.

In present times, Cheryl lives in a terraced house in the valleys with her son, dog, bearded dragon and cats. Her daughter has deserted her for the big city, but they’re still close. She’s never been happier since she was made redundant and is able to devote herself entirely to her twin loves of writing and art, with a healthy smattering of magic and mayhem.


















Published by Jennifer Loring

Jennifer Loring’s short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Tales from the Lake vols. 1 and 4, Nightscript IV, Dim Shores Presents Volume 2, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Not All Monsters and Arterial Bloom, among many others. She holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction with a concentration in horror fiction and is currently working toward a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies - Humanities & Culture, focusing on queer possibility in fairy tales. Jenn lives in Philadelphia, PA, where she and her husband are owned by a turtle and two basset hounds.

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