The story of the werewolf became known in the village of Piagnaro in the 19th century. Piagnaro is the name of the fortress that has overlooked Pontremoli since its foundation a thousand years ago. Piagnaro is a row of stone houses that begin at the castle and run down to Pontremoli, the “noble town” with its 18th-century palaces. At the time of the legend, the village was the people’s quarters, the poorest of the poor. Living conditions were awful, people made do with what they had and were always getting ill. No public lighting meant that the village was in total darkness after sunset. The werewolf had a free run.
There were wolves in the mountains around Pontremoli. The population lived with them, often it was a struggle, but always with respect and a sense of fear. But to be a werewolf you need a man, as well as a wolf. For more than 100 years, every generation of children, and not just of children, has tried to figure out who this man was, and for every generation there was a werewolf, or more than one. Once it was the baker, because he worked at night and because he was exceedingly ugly, or it was the mild-mannered shoemaker who let out his repressed beasty side at nightfall. Or it was the “retarded” lad”, an easy target. Or the foreigner, the other about whom the locals knew so little.
Rumours. But about 150 years ago, a man who has never been identified was seen approaching the village from time to time. He was half-naked, with just the fur of an animal thrown on his shoulders. With long, black, dirty hair. Always barefoot. Rumours have it that he was seen at night on the village roofs, and that he had killed animals – hens, sheep, cows and dogs. All unexplained noises in the night came from him. If someone was unable to sleep, it was because he was screaming. Children drew him with pieces of charcoal on the village streets. He was given a name: “the wolf ”. Fear took grip. People were told not to go out at night when there was a full moon and, if they were to encounter him, they were to walk up three steps, as he was unable to climb more than three. The “wolf” drew wild dogs around him. He would rummage with his four legs among leftover food and roll around in the filth, perhaps to alleviate his frenzy. Never look him in the eye: you will die on the spot out of fear or he will attack and eat you alive.
The “wolf”, that werewolf, vanished into nothing like the nothing from which he came. A few months later, a newborn baby was left on the doorstep of a local family. A common destiny shaped by many poor women. This time the baby girl wasn’t left outside a convent, but outside a family’s home. Odd. The baby grew up healthy and happy. She eventually married and gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The boy is as strange as his mother’s origins. It’s another story talked about in Pontremoli. Or maybe, deep down, it’s actually the same tale.