"How many of you are there?"
"There's a lot of hungry people out there," he said. "They needed this place."
"You didn't answer my question."
Simon sat forward. "Why are you so interested in us? What are you hoping to gain from all this?"
"I'd like to know your story," Phil said. "I'd like to write about it. I think people would be interested to see what you're doing here."
"Some might be afraid."
"Afraid of what?" Phil asked.
"We're the kind of people the world has forgotten," Simon said. "Or maybe just the ones they'd like to forget. What do you think the public would think, our huddled masses banding together, organizing, doing something for themselves?"
"It might make people hopeful."
Simon laughed. "It doesn't usually work that way."
"How does it work?"
"It's simple," Simon said. "Camp Promise offers a place where anyone is welcome, and no one gets turned away. If you provide, you eat. If you don’t want to, you can take your chances out there on your own."
Camp, not Fort, Phil noted. The man is building an army, Rodger had warned. "What if they don't have a way to provide?"
"Everyone has something to offer," Simon said, the flame from a torch doing a playful dance in his eyes. "They may not know what it is at first, but in the end, we've all got our part to play."
* * *
"He likes you," Carmen said as she saw Phil to the edge of Fort Promise.
The wind had picked up, and the biting cold forced Phil's hands into his pockets. Carmen had her arms crossed, hands tucked into her armpits. Her cheeks were red.
"What makes you say that?"
He turned back for a last look, kicking himself for not paying better attention. He had meant to watch for anything strange, to take mental note of all he saw, but he hadn't been able to keep his eyes off the girl.
"We don't let strangers in," she said. "Not this close to last harvest."
Her smile was all eyes and teeth, but she remained silent.
"Why treat me like an outsider?” Phil asked. “Whatever happened to 'anyone is welcome?' We all start off strangers."
Her head turned with a flick of her hair, and her smile grew mischievous. Phil felt guilty; his attraction was undeniable, but she couldn't be more than twenty. Younger, maybe.
"You know what I mean," she said. "Your kind is different."