Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Eight Feet Down
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Where I grew up, a man could be either a farmer, a miner, or a hired gun. My daddy was a farmer, and it killed him. My granddaddy worked in the mines, and it killed him. Everybody dies, so you might as well be the one doing the killing for as long as you can.

I knew the 'verse was gonna kill me someday; that's a plain fact and not something you can ever get around. 'Verse kills everybody in the end. And I guess I knew it would be like this, too, shot to shit in a firefight on some lo be ji planet. Never thought that it would happen because I took the bullets for a pair of little girls too gorram stupid to get out of the way when the shooting starts, though.

Christ, it hurts like hell. The doc's doing what he can to be gentle, but there ain't no way three bullets in the chest don't hurt. I can hear Mal out in the corridor, talking to Kaylee. She's still crying, been crying ever since the deal went bad. She and River shouldn't've been there anyway, but Mal always did run this more like a gorram family picnic than a smuggling operation...

"He's strong as a damn ox, Kaylee," Mal's saying, all soft and patient, trying to calm her down. "He'll pull through." He's lying and he knows it; I don't understand much about the way folks think, but I can hear it when they're lying. Course I don't need Mal to tell me I'm dying; I know where the bullets are. I've shot men in the exact same places myself. Ain't no way I'm getting up off this table again, not even with doctor boy genius cuttin' on me.

What's Kaylee crying for anyway? I chose the life, chose my death, knew it would end this way...

River ain't crying. She's standing in the doorway, watching me and Simon with her big dark eyes. I wonder if she knows that the reason she ain't dying is that I am. Of course she knows. I'm about half convinced that girl knows everything. Too crazy to understand half of it, but she knows.

I can't get enough air into my lungs and I can't quit coughing, and every cough hurts worse than the one before. Someone explained it to me once, a mobster type on Persephone. Chest wounds make the lungs fill up with blood and fluid; you drown right in the open air. I'm lying on the doc's table on Serenity, but I might as well be at the bottom of the ocean.

Simon frowns and sticks a needle into me; after a minute the frantic need to cough eases. Don't mean I'm not still drowning, but my lungs ain't fighting it anymore. Doc can trick my body into dying peaceful. I'd thank him for that, if I could just get enough air to say anything.

I remember the last time I was on this table, when he told me that I was always safe there. Couple of gun runners made a liar out of Simon Tam. I'd needle him about that good and proper, but it's all I can do just to breathe.

Mal's standing by the bedside now- when did he get there? I lost a few minutes, fighting for air. He's sent River and Kaylee away; I hope that means he won't waste my last couple minutes with any more lying. He chuckles, hoarse and tired.

"You're probably the worst son of a bitch those boys ever saw, Jayne."

Course I am.

"Reckon they'll want us to bury you eight feet down, just in case."

Damn straight.

"You want me to forward your last paycheck and your personals to your kin?"

I nod. Man ought to look after his kinfolk, even when he's dead. They won't shed tears over the news. Ask anybody back on my home rock- Cobbs don't cry.

Mal pats my shoulder a little, then mutters something at Simon and leaves the room. It's starting to get cold in here, though the doc isn't shivering. He sticks a few more needles into me and I wait for something to happen. He's got my blood all over his nice white shirt and fancy-boy vest. I wonder if his sister thinks he looks better in red too. Likely not.

I stare up at the infirmary ceiling, and since I can still see it I know I ain't dead quite yet. Find myself thinking about that army buddy of Mal and Zoe's, what was his name, the little fuckup. Tracey. I think about him lying cold and stiff and still in that coffin. I hate being cold and I never could sit still, not since I got out of the cradle. He got to come back, raise a little more hell even after he was dead for a while. I don't think that's going to happen for me.

I remember talking to the Shepherd over Tracey's coffin, asking him if he'd say any words for me when I fell. Where was he, anyway? Only time in my life I've ever needed prayin', and the preacher can't be found.

He comes through the door just as I think it. Maybe he's picking up some of River's crazy mind-reading powers. "Hello, Jayne," he says, reaching down to clasp my hand in his. "The captain said he thought you might be wanting me about now." Or maybe Mal's the one going psychic.

"Don't be afraid," he murmurs, stepping out of the way so Simon can stick another needle in. I'm not cold anymore, but it's starting to hurt again. I have to breathe shallower and shallower to dodge the pain, and the edges of the room are starting to fade. Time's almost run out for old Jayne Cobb.

I've shot a lot of men. Dozens of 'em. When you watch a body fall, knowing you're the one who sent the bullet, usually you're high on adrenaline or anger or anticipation. But in the way back of your mind there's a little thrill, a happiness. You could call it being giddy, even. And that part tells the other guy, "I live, you die. I win, you lose. I laugh, you bleed." And now some other son of a bitch is thinkin' that about me. I'd be pissed off, but whatever was in that last shot of Simon's seems to be draining all the anger right out of me. I'm tired and it hurts, and without the anger I'm starting to get just a little bit scared.

Shepherd's reading the passage about the valley of shadows. I can remember my mama reciting that, her low strong voice talking out the Bible on Sunday evenings while all us kids squirmed and picked at each other. I can remember the flat of her hand hard on the back of my head, and her telling me to sit down and shut up and listen to God's Word, then going back to her verses without missing a beat.

Thinking about God and mama makes me think of something else, and I start struggling against Simon's hands, trying to force enough air into my lungs to talk. I've gotta make my confessions, before I go. Can't die without gettin' right with God. How am I supposed to get right with God if I can't ruttin' speak?

The doctor's trying to hold me down, and I must only be a hand's breadth from the grave now because he can actually do it. "Shh, Jayne, shh," the preacher murmurs, resting his hand on my chest. "It's all right. God can hear you in your heart."

Shepherd ain't steered us wrong yet. I settle a little, and Simon lets go. I'm afraid to close my eyes, because then I won't know when it all goes dark. So I stare up at the ceiling as Book starts reading again.

God, I know I ain't exactly been a good and virtuous man. But I've never shot anyone who wasn't planning to shoot me, and I never stole from nobody who was actually starvin', and I never forced a woman into bed if she didn't want to go. That ain't much credit to pile up in a life, but it's what I've got. If you want to send me down to hellfire and damnation, I guess that's your part of the salvage, but I ain't sorry for living my life...it all seemed like the right thing at the time...

"It won't be long now," Simon murmurs to somebody, and I'm glad because I'm awful tired. I wish I could just go to sleep instead of having to die, but wishes won't make the engine turn, in this 'verse.

Shepherd's started another prayer now, one I remember my daddy's mama saying when I was small. Old words, old as Earth that Was. I can't recollect all the words, but I'm glad the Shepherd's saying them as the room fades into gray. I think Mother Mary will listen to the Shepherd, him asking nice in that smooth voice of his for her to pray for us sinners at the hour of our deaths. Reckon that's now, and I can use any prayin' I can get...

I'm starting to feel warm again, which is almost enough to make it okay that it's getting so dark. I remember what Mal said, about burying me eight feet down. Kinda hope they do; I ain't too fond of the idea of anybody diggin' up my bones. But I hope they don't lay me anyplace where the stars can't see.

You can bury me on Deadwood Mountain
By my brother Wild Bill and my sister Calamity Jane
Don't bring me no flowers, just a six-gun smoking
Put me eight feet down, when you bury me
Put me eight feet down, when you bury me

And cover me a little extra deep
Cause that's the only way I'm ever gonna rest in peace

~"Deadwood Mountain," Big & Rich

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