Ash was still falling. The winter air was warm. The boy, a teenager, but looking younger than his years, pushed open the metal doors. He shuffled out from the dark cavity, through a foot of gritty ash. In his hands he held the neck of a guitar. The soundbox was hanging in splinters and the strings were swaying loose. He walked out into the road.
There were charred cars. The boy stared at the charred bodies within them. Empty sockets stared forward. Mouths gaped and drooped or were sealed shut, seams of lips puckered and frozen in carbon black bubbles. He looked up at the buildings. All their glass cladding was gone. Curtains and blinds flamed and fluttered outside the windows. Bits of singed paper drifted down amidst the heavy ash.
The boy went to the center of the street. He bent down and grabbed up a handful of ash and bits of aerated pumice. He tipped his fingers and let the contents fall back down. He looked up the street. There was an approaching glow of orange. For a minute he wondered if it was the setting sun, even though it was about noon.
The boy finished crossing the street and went to a building he knew well. He pulled at the door and it fell away, crumbling. He entered the lobby. It was still thick with a smell of sulphur and carbon. There were greasy black shadows on the floor and walls. A leather chair was still smoking, almost burned out like the others that populated the room. He went to the elevator, but there was no electricity to call the cab. He walked behind the elevator bank and found the stairs.
The air inside the stairway was stale, but fresher than the outside air. He expected to see people descending, but there was no one, not even anyone's shadow. He climbed up. The broken soundbox clattered against the steps. He passed the landing to his mother's apartment, and went right up to the roof. It was the place that the families gathered on hot summer nights to chat and smoke and eat cold foods. He opened the door, reach down and grabbed the cement block that was always used to keep the door propped open, and he did so then.
There was a clearer view of the city from here, and he could see the sky, which was still thickly gray. He walked slowly to the edge. The volcano that the city ringed was still spewing billows of dark ash. Half the mountain was gone, and with it all the countless buildings that nested unwittingly upon it. It was replaced with an orange river, snaking down towards this part of the city.
The boy retreated to a cement bench near the door. It was where his older sister would come and sit and chainsmoke with her boyfriends. The bench was still warm, but not burning hot. He sat and rested the remains of the guitar on his lap. He picked up the strings and stroked them back, but they fell lax again. He remembered the song he had been practicing. He tapped his foot, and moved his fingers across the frets. He strummed as if the strings were taut.
When the rescue teams arrived, he was found with his lungs full of ash, dead, sitting on the bench, the guitar under his hands.