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I read this one in the early-to-mid 1980s, and I'm fairly certain that was when it was written.

The protagonist is a middle-class-type who has recently lost everything. He has no job, has lost his home, and so on. He may also be drinking heavily at this point. One night, he happens upon a group of homeless men and women sitting around a fire. They invite him to join them.

As they exchange dialogue, the homeless people talk about how polite society has turned their back on them, and they live by their own rules now. The protagonist begins to feel a kinship with them. IIRC, there is a leader of the group, who keeps passing around a bottle of red wine to his fellow homeless people. The light from the fire is dim enough that their faces are somewhat covered in shadow.

Near the end of the story, they hand the bottle of red wine to the protagonist. The protagonist takes a draught from the bottle, and instantly gags. There is a line that goes something like "thick and salty..it was NOT wine." The bottle is, in fact, filled with human blood. The man also sees their faces clearly for the first time, and sees they are all horribly scarred with burns.

The group of homeless people reveal their secret in the fire. There is some sort of malevolent spirit in the flames, who is their 'protector', in exchange for their service and the price of being burned horribly. The protagonist has reached the point where he too, has turned his back on society. He leans into the fire, and allows the spirit to claw at his face with flaming talons or the like. After it's finished, they toss him a piece of (human) meat, after which there is a line something like "it tasted just like venison...somehow he always knew it would."

The store closes with the protagonist briefly sharing a tale of them catching a jogger for "dinner" and throwing her bones into the Thames.

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  • 3
    What nonsense, we all know that everything tastes like chicken :)
    – Tom Zych
    Mar 8 '17 at 19:39
7
+200

Discards by Tony Richards

From the Black Gate's review:

Robin Brookard was born into a middle class family, married, and had children, but what sets him apart is that he lost everything due to his addiction to alcohol. The story opens with him walking the streets of London trying to figure out where he is going to spend the night and realizing he’ll either have to sleep outdoors or find his way to a hostel. His pride doesn’t allow for the latter choice since it seems a more “official” acknowledgement of his state.

Brookard eventually finds a group of tramps gathered around a fire and he approaches them in hopes of keeping warm and finding some companionship. Something about the group doesn’t strike him as quite right, however, and he is torn between joining them and keeping his distance, partly because of the sense of wrongness and partly because being accepted into their group means admitting that he can no longer find his way back to the life he once had.

The group’s leader, known as Padre, explains to Brookard that gods are created and gain power when they have believers and indicates that the homeless of London, and in fact, the homeless around the world, have brought their own god into existence.

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  • That is the story, no question. Enjoy your bounty points. ;)
    – Helbent IV
    Jul 18 '18 at 1:35

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