“Hi,” Peal said. “Where the hell have you been?”
Mike said nothing, just stared back at him, wild eyed and stammering.
“What’s the matter with you?”, Peal asked. “You look like you just saw a ghost or something.”
Mike rubbed his eyes, took a deep breath, then blurted out, “What the hell is going on here? What happened to you?”
“Nothin’ happened to me. I’m fine. You’re the one who’s comin’ unglued.”
“No! No! You don’t just disappear and reappear like that!”
“What you talkin’ ’bout now? Who’s disappearing?”
“You, you crazy old man! The last time I saw you was outside of Mauk, at that gas station. We stopped for you to clean up the beer you spilled, remember?”
Peal just giggled. “Good Lord you’re a jumpy boy. Chill out captain!”
Mike took another deep breath, then spoke slowly. “Where did you wander off to?”
“I didn’t do no wandering! I’m no fool who nearly drives to Alabama when he’s supposed to be join’ to South Carolina.” Peal chuckled some more. “C’mon boy, get this boat in gear. Maybe you’ll cruise off in the right direction this time!”
It was nearly always useless to attempt to talk sensibly with the old man, even in the best of circumstances. As these circumstances were far from “best”, Mike just gave up the effort, started up the car, and proceeded to almost drive directly in front of a truck, nearly killing both of them. A quick swerve back into the parking lot, accompanied by a loud blare from the truck’s horn, saved them.
Mike just sat there for a moment, his heart beating wildly. Old man Peal spoke first.
“You damn fool! You trying’ to kill us! What the hell you been smokin’ while I was gone?”
When he finally caught his breath Mike simply replied, in a low voice, “I’m fine,” then eased the car back onto the road, being extremely careful this time not to get in the path of an oncoming vehicle.
It’s actually not entirely his fault; the parking lot for the Country Store is right next to the road, which rises up a hill at that point. So visibility is poor, and you have no place to accelerate and merge in. I’m surprised there aren’t more wrecks there, to be honest.
As for seemingly magical disappearance and reappearance of Old Man Peal, I can’t say anything one way or another, as I never met the old fellow. This is what Mike told me, so it is what I am telling you. Mike’s a pretty level headed guy, so I tend to believe him.