"Well, you're in a bad way, ain't you?" said a gravelly voice near his elbow, and though it was nearly twenty years since he'd last heard it, Al knew the owner. He straightened himself dizzily, retched, and rubbed his eyes.
"Don't do that," said the little round-shouldered man eyeing him with benign exasperation. "Not unless you want an eye infection on top of your other indispositions."
"What cocksucker is it who let you up out of your coffin?"
"I didn't get up. My bones are still there, if no one's taken 'em. But then, they're no particular use to me now, are they?"
"So you're just a fuckin' spectre haunting my deathbed?"
"I don't believe in ghosts - more likely you're delirious; or just drunk. The real question is your apparent eagerness to join me. That's not like you, Al; you were always an expert in the field of self-preservation."
"Time changes us all. 'Cept you, more's the pity." The doctor said nothing, just hunched forward in the chair he must've brought it with him from wherever-the-hell it was he'd come from: Al was pretty sure it hadn't been there earlier when, having given up shakily trying to fit the key in the lock, he'd leaned himself against the rail on his front stoop, cursing the cold. Doc really did look just as Al remembered him; neither decayed nor transfigured; and his hand, as he checked Al's pulse, felt warm and expert as ever.
"So, what's it like then: bein' dead?" Doc tilted his head, and letting go Al's wrist, looked up at him sharply.
"You do know you might as well ask what's it's like being a bird, or a tree, or--"
"Or a goddamn bottle of whiskey, all right, I get it. 'Scuse me for trying to make friendly conversation after these many years." Al's voice softened slightly. "Just wanted to know - your shingle hangs in the... less-tropical clime, I take it?"
"I'm where I ought to be," Doc answered, getting up and feeling Al's forehead. "Your temperature's elevated - and just so you know, I mean that in the most literal sense. Running a fever."
"Of course I am. Like you said, I'm fuckin' delirious."
"You need to get indoors. Manage that, and I expect you'll live, this time." He paused, his pale, inquisitive face thoughtful. "You haven't asked about Jewel." The gimp hadn't made it through the influenza epidemic that hit a few years after his own passing.
"No need to." Turning brusquely away, Al resumed his struggle with the front door lock. He suspected that Doc, if he hadn't yet vanished away in the darkness, was grinning behind his back at the sentiment his answer had implied, and damn him if he was going to let a ghost see him get misty.