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Excerpt from “Telescope” (from Badlands)

From the story, “The Telescope”

Badlands: A Collection of Stories
by Thomas Biel

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[From the story, “The Telescope”:]

We maneuvered the tall stepladder over to the corner of our house farthest from my parents’ bedroom and scooted ourselves up onto the roof. Idaho went first, and then I tied the telescope to a rope, which Idaho hoisted up to the roof. Treading as lightly as we could and carrying the delicate instrument, we inched our way to the top of the roof to a position we had earlier scouted. Then we began the delicate operation of setting up the telescope, directing it, sighting our target.

“Got it,” said Idaho when we had it standing and secured and had scanned the field. “Nothing,” he said, as he sighted in the Wellingbees’ house.

“They’re probably already in bed,” I said. “We’re too late.”

“We’ll have to scope out their routine better,” said Idaho. “Figure out when they go to bed.”

“What if she found out what we were doing?”

“Maybe she’d like it.” The ultimate kid fantasy gripped us.

“Yeah. What if she invited us into her house for a view without a telescope?” I said. We laughed. “Then again she might turn us in to the police and we would have to go to reform school.” End of fantasy.

While Idaho kept his eye up to the telescope, I surveyed the neighborhood below. It was so quiet, most lights off. Flickering lights of television screens. A car door shutting. A little rustle of leaves. A sneaking cat.

“Their light just came on,” said Idaho so suddenly he startled me and I nearly lost my balance. “It’s her. My god. It’s their bedroom. There she is. She’s coming into the bedroom. Oh shit! You can see her like she’s right there.”

“Let me see!” I sucked my eye up to that eye cup so fast I banged into it; the intensified vision of the trees and roofs and windows bounced around until bingo, I found the room, the light on, the shade up, and Mrs. Wellingbee in white bathrobe standing with her back toward us, her hands reaching up behind her to gather in her long, dark hair, gathering it together in a ponytail, then letting it fall back.

“What’s she doing?” whispered Idaho.

“She’s wringing her hair.”

“Let me see.”

“No. Wait a minute. She’s looking at her face in a mirror, bending over a little to look. Now she’s gone. She just left the room or something.”

Idaho took over and I peered into the night with the naked eye and had a hard time adjusting to what seemed so miniature and yet so huge, so inclusive.

“Oh, Lord,” said Idaho. “Oh, Lord, I can’t believe this.”


He narrated her moves. “She came back in. She’s turning toward the window. Her robe is open. It’s open!”

“Shh. Let me see.” I was trembling. Idaho passed the telescope over, reluctantly. He was trembling, too. With hopefulness of seeing a real goddess, and real tits, I secured my eye and found the light. As soon as I had the lens in focus, my heart leaped and my stomach nearly flew away.

She had her back to me. Then, other things happened. Mr. Wellingbee walked in. I felt fear all of a sudden with his presence, as I realized what I was doing now, that we were spying, that we were prying. The scope brought things so close you could see their expressions, their mouths move. Their mouths moved fast and almost at the same time. They gestured wildly. They were angry. He was really angry. I could tell he was yelling. It felt dangerous. “Oh shit,” I said.

“What?” said Idaho.

“He’s in there.”


“Mr. Wellingbee. And he’s pissed. This isn’t good. I don’t know what he’s doing. They’re yelling, you can tell. Damn.”

“Let me see.” I gave up the scope to Idaho. “You’re right. Man, he’s really pissed. They’re fighting. Jesus.”

“They’re still yelling?”

“No. They’re fighting. He just grabbed her wrists. It hurt her.”

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know.”

I took the scope again and looked. She was gone out of the picture, and just Mr. Wellingbee filled the view. He must have pushed her down. He turned and the scary thing was, he looked right out the window and I could see straight into his eyes and it was as if he was looking right back at me. I pulled back from the telescope. It was then, it was at that precise moment, I heard a sound I thought was going to give me a premature heart attack. It was my mother!

“Matthew? Idaho? Where are you boys?”

[Excerpted from the story, “The Telescope”]

Badlands: A Collection of Stories
by Thomas Biel
softcover • $14.95 • 300 pages
Kindle eBook • $9.99
A linked collection of short stories, the coming-of-age tales of young Matthew Davis and his best friend, Idaho Wells, set in a small town in the west in the 1960s.

Buy the Kindle editionBuy the softcover from Amazon
Buy the softcover from Barnes&Noble.comBuy the softcover from the publisher