Subject: Bewitching the witches
as related by Thomas Byro



The following took place at Eastercon in 1965.
At Eastercon, Carl Frederick and I were chatting when we were accosted by two middle aged ladies who each prominently wore an Ankh suspended from their necks. The ladies announced that they were witches. Since neither Carl nor myself believed in the supernatural, we quickly eased ourselves away. Minutes later though, fellow caver Barry Greene appeared, fully dressed in caving gear. He had come straight from a cave and had not even had a chance to wash off the cave mud yet.
We chatted for a while and told Barry about the witches we had met a few minutes earlier. We were sitting at a table which was empty except for a half full bottle of beer. As we spoke, Barry shifted his caving kit bag and a bottle of calcium carbide rolled out. I think that we all hit on the idea simultaneously. Calcium carbide combines with water to form the highly flammable acetyle gas. Beer is essentially mostly water. We reasoned that calcium carbide should work just as well with beer as with water to produce acetylene gas. We accordingly hatched a plot to have some fun with the witches, hopefully leading them to believe that they were witnessing a supernatural apparition...
My task was to engage the witches in conversation and lure them over to our table. Barry was to surreptitiously drop the calcium carbide in the beer bottle as he saw us comming. Carl's task was to casually wave a lit cigarette over the mouth of the beer bottle to ignite the gas. Timing was critical. If Barry dropped the calcium carbide in the bottle too early, the area would become suffused by the telltale smell of acetylene gas. If he dropped the calcium carbide too late, air might remain in the bottle possibly causing it to explode.
Everything worked like a charm. Carl (a non smoker) ignited the gas, resulting in a spectacular three foot flame continuously errupting from the bottle. The witches displayed the utmost cool. One said "I see this happen all the time."
We drew the attention of a crowd of people. None had ever seen flames errupting from beer bottles before. A few tried to blow the flame out but the force of the gas was such that this was impossible. Another inverted an empty glass over the bottle but this merely caused the flame to shoot aroud the gas. One of the attendees remarked that he smelled acetyle gas. We thought the jig was up but then Barry said "Yes, but where does the gas come from?" No one had an aswer to that.
We pulled away from the table as more and more people crowded around. When we returned a few minutes later, the witches had everyone sitting around the table holding hands while they conducted a seance.