2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Excerpt: No More Empty Spaces by D.J. Green

About the Book

In No More Empty Spaces, Will Ross, a divorced American geologist, takes his three children to a remote, rugged part of Turkey where he has signed on to work on construction of a troubled dam. Once in Turkey, Will finds himself struggling for control—of his family, his work, the landscape the dam is to be built on, and ultimately, himself. Here, read what his oldest child, 15-year-old Kevin, thinks about the family’s arrival in Turkey—and finding a faithful companion, Buddy, an Anatolian shepherd puppy who is as lost as Kevin feels.

The Excerpt

Kevin ran around the Land Cruiser and across the lawn facing the house. He stumbled on a clump of the dry, pathetic grass but regained his balance and accelerated. He crossed a footbridge. And kept running.

Approaching a fence, he looked wildly left and right. Was there any way out of this compound? He didn’t see one, so he shifted his forward momentum upward, jumped, and grabbed high up on the chain-link barrier. Metal ripped into the palm of his left hand, but Kevin hauled himself up, feet scrabbling on the thick wire mesh. He threw himself over the fence, his pack thumping hard against his back when he landed. Tightening the straps, he glanced back for a heartbeat, then he turned and ran for the hills.

His breath roared in his ears. His lungs burned.

When he had run himself out, Kevin bent double and vomited.

He trudged to the top of the rise before him and squinted into the sun, now low in the sky. He sank to his knees. Seeing blood on his pants, he remembered his hand. It didn’t look too bad, and it didn’t hurt. He flexed his fist in and out, and blood seeped from the cut. He dabbed it on a clean spot on his pant leg.

He tucked his shoulder and rolled onto his side, then shifted to his back. Stopped by the lump of his backpack, he twisted out of it. Sweat stung his eyes. He swiped at them, then his upper lip as he sat up and leaned back against a boulder. The ball-of-fire sun sank behind a mountain. Sweat dribbled down his temples, across the hollows of his cheeks, and onto his neck. He pulled his knees up to his chest and folded his arms over them. Watching the sunset’s colors shift, red to pink to violet, he thought about his camera in his pack, just out of reach, but couldn’t make himself move. The violet faded to blue then deeper blue. Stars began to flicker. 

Kevin sat still, breathing, blinking, blank. He’d run his anger out, but disbelief clung to him like his sweat-soaked clothes. He was used to his mother’s lies—about the booze, the boyfriends. He’d even learned to lie for her. At school. To his father. Even with Rob and Didi, who didn’t need to know more than they already did. They wouldn’t understand. Not that Kevin did either, but that’s what he got for being oldest. Knowing more than he wanted to. More expectations to live up to. Having to be the grown-up at Toll House Lane that summer.

But he’d thought he could trust Dad. Despite the churning in his stomach when they left New Jersey on Saturday and Ankara that morning, he never imagined his father would look him in the eye and lie.

Kevin searched for a word for what had happened. He dropped his head onto his arms. Betrayal—that was the word.


He woke with a shriek, swung his head around, and scrambled to his feet. Were there bears or cougars here? Something wet and cold had nudged his hand. He was sure of it.

He strained his eyes in the flat light, seeking a tree to climb. There were no trees! He grabbed his backpack and held it to his chest like a shield, while he felt around inside for the flashlight he hoped was there.

“Aaaagghh!” Another scream escaped him when he flicked the flashlight on. Two eyes glowed back at him, eerily green. They blinked. Then the creature woofed.

Kevin’s body sagged to the ground. “Jeez. . .you scared me.”

“Boof, boof,” the dog answered.

He exhaled, then making his voice as gentle and inviting as he could, he said, “Come on, boy.” He lowered the light so it wouldn’t shine in the dog’s eyes, and the little green lamps went out.

Kevin noticed the sky brightening to the east and realized it was morning. He’d been out all night. Good thing there weren’t bears or mountain lions around. Only a dog.

“Here, boy,” Kevin coaxed. “You can do it.”

The dog crept out of the shadows, advancing, retreating, and advancing a bit more until he was near enough for Kevin to reach for him with an outstretched arm. Palm up and open, he gave the dog a little scratch under the chin.

“Did you run away too?”

It was a puppy. Not a newborn, but a gangly legged, big-footed puppy with big brown eyes whose lenses must have caught the light and gleamed that alien green. He was so bony that his skin hung on him like a size-too-big suit, and his ribs and spine and hips stuck out.

By the time the sun was up, the puppy’s head rested on Kevin’s thigh. They’d each eaten a package of Lufthansa airlines peanuts. After wolfing his down, the puppy had rolled over, his legs waving in the air, and Kevin rubbed his belly.

“You’re still hungry, aren’t you?”

Kevin was hungry too. But he remembered from Boy Scouts that water was more important than food. He found his canteen at the bottom of his pack. He poured some water into his hand, and the pup lapped it up. Then Kevin drank.

The puppy was golden tan, the tips of his fur lighter than the darker gold shafts. His underside was lighter still, almost white. His eyes were outlined in black, like eyeliner, and the line curved up and back toward his ears, which were so velvety soft, Kevin couldn’t stop rubbing them. His eyebrows, too, were black, and the puppy moved one up and the other down when Kevin spoke, as if inquiring further about what he had to say. The fur on the dog’s snout was tipped in black rather than light tan, and the dark of his muzzle converged into a thin black line that ran between his eyes to the top of his head. Kevin traced the line over and over with his finger.

“How old are you? I don’t think you’re old enough to be out here by yourself, buddy.”

The puppy swiped at Kevin with his paw.

“Buddy. You like that name?” He scratched the puppy’s chest, then hugged him. Buddy licked his ear. His whiskers tickled and Kevin laughed.

He leaned back against the boulder he’d slept beside, fondled the dog’s ears, and looked around, finally seeing the stark beauty of the Anatolian landscape he had run through the evening before. The stony surfaces in shades of tan and gold reminded him of the hills surrounding their house near Lahore when he was little, or the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, where they camped on weekends when Dad was in graduate school.

Kevin stroked the puppy’s flanks, and feeling the bones under Buddy’s hide, he decided.

“We have to go back. You need food, and we don’t have anything else to eat. Half our water’s gone too. He’ll probably come looking for us sometime. Then we’d be in worse trouble than if we went back ourselves.”

What happened at the house the night before played like a movie through Kevin’s mind. The boxes he had smashed. His father stepping toward him, not threatening really. “Son” he’d said, like Dad was asking for his approval, his forgiveness.


Kevin stood and stretched, like before track practice. He swung his backpack on and tightened the straps, wincing when the canvas webbing brushed the cut on his hand. It was starting to throb.

“I’m not sure where we are,” he said.

Buddy cocked his head.

All the mountains looked the same. He wasn’t like his father, who read mountains like other people read books.

He thought he was running up a hill when he stopped yesterday. “That means we should start by going downhill. Right, Buddy?”

Buddy tilted his head the other way.

Kevin marched off with Buddy trotting beside him. They descended, crossed a dry creek, and wound around rocks. Scrubby brush rustled as they pushed through it. They climbed a ridge, and Buddy slowed at the top. He raised his head, his nose twitching.

“What is it, boy?”

The dog sniffed the air. Kevin squinted in that direction. He didn’t see anything but the dry, empty landscape.

Then they heard it, a woman’s voice calling Kevin’s name.

“Here! I’m over here!”

She answered, “Kevin! Keep calling! I’m coming!”

It was Paula, the teacher they met yesterday. Her strides were long, and she covered the ground between them quickly. Kevin scooped Buddy up in his arms. The puppy wiggled against his chest, barking.

She stopped short. “Whoa. You have a dog?”

“Yes. He’s mine. I found him. Or he found me. I didn’t steal him. He didn’t have a collar or anything. He was lost.”

A smile played on her lips. “I guess he wasn’t the only one.”

Kevin hesitated, even though she seemed nice enough. “I guess not,” he said, holding tight to his squirming puppy. “He’s hungry. Do you have anything to eat?”

“PB and J. But I brought them for you.”

“We can share,” he said.

“Are you okay?” she asked, pointing at his bloodstained pants.

“Yeah. I got a cut,” he said. He put Buddy down and looked at his hand. “Is he mad?”

“More concerned than mad, I think.”

Buddy scampered from Kevin to Paula and back.

“You don’t know my dad very well.”

“No,” she said “How could I? Y’all just got here.”

Buddy pranced back to Paula, sniffed at her, then balanced on his hind legs and pawed at her bag.

“Can I have a sandwich for him? He’s so hungry.”

“Poor puppy,” she said, sitting down cross-legged in one smooth movement. She pulled the bag slung across her shoulder into her lap and reached in. “What about you?”

Did she hear his stomach rumbling? “Yeah, me too.”

“I’ve got a few. Like you said, you can share. I have water too. Aren’t you thirsty?”

“We’re okay. I have my canteen.”

Buddy and Kevin each scarfed down a sandwich. Paula pulled two more out of her bag and handed one to Kevin, then asked, “Can I feed him? See if he’ll cotton up to me?”

Kevin nodded and took a big bite out of his second sandwich, relieved Paula found them, not Dad. It gave him a little more time. For what, he wasn’t sure.

Buddy licked jelly from Paula’s hand. She laughed and rubbed the puppy’s skinny flank with her other hand. Then she poured some water into her cupped hand and Buddy lapped it up. Kevin watched her with his dog. Her laughter was musical. No one spoke.

He liked quiet like this. It was a patient kind of quiet. Different from the sullen silences after Mom’s temper tantrums. He suddenly realized he was tired, really tired. Like he’d been carrying a heavy load for a long time and only just got to put it down.

Kevin licked some jelly off his fingers. Pulling his canteen from his pack, he sipped from it. He chewed at a hangnail. With a sigh, he dropped his hands into his lap. He flicked some dirt out from under his thumbnail. “Did he tell you he kidnapped us? All he told us was he got a new job. That he was going to Turkey, and we were going with him for his two weeks. He didn’t say he was moving here, that we were all moving here.”

“Oh,” she said.

“What did he tell you?”

“Not a lot, actually. He said you two had a misunderstanding. And you got upset and ran out of the house. What do you mean ‘his’ two weeks?”

“We go back and forth between his place and our old house with my mom. Every two weeks. It stinks.”

“So, what would you do now, if you could do whatever you wanted?”

“Not think about all this. I’d go work for National Geographic. Or be an artist.”

“Would you go back to the States?”

“I don’t think that’ll work,” he said, looking down again. “My mom wants some time”—he paused—“without us. My bedroom’s next to hers; I hear her talking on the phone to her girlfriends. And to her boyfriend.” He glanced up at Paula. “I’m not so mad about being here; I’m mad that Dad lied.”

She nodded.

“How’re Rob and Didi? Rob didn’t even want to come for two weeks.” 

“I’m not sure.”

“He didn’t run away again?”


“He tried to run away before we left, when Dad said we were going that afternoon. I knew where he’d go. I told Rob I heard Mom talking about going away with Russell. And that he couldn’t stay home by himself. I should’ve told Dad I couldn’t find him, but I don’t like to lie.”

“That’s a good thing.”

He made a snorting sound, then asked, “Do you like it here?” 

“Anatolia’s an amazing place. The history’s so deep. Sometimes I think I can feel the ancients beside me when I walk down the road to the village . . . that must sound crazy.”

“No, it sounds neat.”

“Kevin, we should go. If we stay out here much longer, one of the others could find us. They’d wonder why we’re having a picnic instead of heading back. Your dad’s worried about you.”

He snorted again but didn’t say anything. Knowing Dad, he probably thought being out here all night was a good, manly exercise.

“Okay. I don’t want to get you in trouble too,” he said.

Buddy romped while they collected their things.

“This way,” she said, leading them along the ridge.

Kevin followed with Buddy, hoping the ancient people who walked with Paula would walk beside them too.

Copyright D.J. Green, 2023

About the Author

D. J. Green is a writer, geologist, and sailor, as well as a bookseller and partner in Bookworks, an independent bookstore in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She lives near the Sandia Mountains in Placitas,  New Mexico, and cruises the Salish Sea on her sailboat during the summers. No More Empty Spaces, her first novel, will be released in April 2024.

Find D.J. Green online at:

Author photo credit: William Bledsoe

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