Neil Manodom is a shy, quiet 16-year-old – until he picks up the kid-sized electric guitar in his south Sacramento apartment.
He plugs it into a small amplifier and hits a few strings. The growling sound of heavy distortion makes him smile.
"Loud, huh?" he says.
Then he drills the opening riff of a heavy-metal song that makes his mother, Margarita, cringe.
"Bullet For My Valentine," he says, the name of the band.
"What?" Margarita cries.
Neil and Margarita have lived here for about a year and a half, thousands of miles from their home in the Philippines, while Neil gets treatment at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California for the burn scars that cover most of his body.
He suffered third-degree burns on 75 percent of his body in 2006, when a high-voltage power line above a church in his hometown set fire to his clothes.
The flames, though, spared the fingers on both of his hands. Those fingers are long and slender and dance down the fretboard of his guitar, playing rock songs that Neil has taught himself by ear.
The Firefighters Burn Institute has asked Book of Dreams readers to pay for guitar lessons for Neil, who wants to be in a rock band.
Neil is part of the percussion section in the Burbank High band, but, as he said, "I don't think you can play rock on the xylophone."
The last thing he remembers about that Sunday four years ago at the church was playing hide-and-seek.
"I hid by the window," Neil said. "And after that I was just in the hospital. Somebody said I got burned. I couldn't believe it."
Neil spent the next seven months in the hospital, battling infections. His neck, torso, arms and legs sustained horrible burns.
"It's just a miracle that he survived," Margarita said.
Neil has been able to get reconstructive surgery and therapy at Shriners, thanks to a Los Angeles woman who met him and Margarita while visiting the Philippines and is supporting them while they're in America. Margarita is not allowed to work under terms of her visa.
Most days after school, Neil pulls out the guitar – a 15th birthday present from his mom – and teaches himself songs by White Lion and his favorite band, Green Day.
Margarita said sometimes the hard rock guitar lines just sound like "noise." To Neil's ear, it's sweet music. Needed: Guitar lessons for a year. Cost: $1,200