The tall grass engulfed her as she disappeared from view. I was lost in the brush, with nothing left but a treasure map and the hot sun beating down from above, threatening to overtake my mind as it rushed to madness….
On a beautiful Saturday morning in late September, my sister and I decided to go on an adventure. We had heard that a sort-of mythical vending machine had been tucked behind The Station by Little Creek at Port of Egypt Marina in Southold. Supposedly, this vending machine dispensed maps that led folks on grand trips across the North Fork, each ending with treasure. So after a bit of convincing, my sister agreed to the outing. It sounded like a nice time, and we could go to lunch afterward. My mother even came along for the ride. But little did we know what madness and absurdity awaited us on this strange expedition…
The excursion started off innocently enough. We found the Greenie Supply & Tackle vending machine, purchased a $5 map and opened it, excited to see what wonders we would soon experience. The map contained hints that were fairly vague—a flash of yellow, a long staircase—with a general area to search. Our first destination would be the Horton Point Light, an old but active lighthouse in Southold. It was, as far as we could tell, the only place in town near a long staircase. My sister and I headed down the 67 steps while my mother stayed behind to take in the lovely beach below her. We followed the instructions on the map (which we won’t spoil here, in case anyone would like to attempt the trek), and it seemed like we were on the right path. But something was a little off. Where was the rock with the “X” that the map described?
After some searching, I went back up the steep staircase to do a little investigating. Two kids, maybe about 15 years old, manned the parking lot nearby. I approached them and showed them the map.
“Hey, guys. Have either of you seen this?” I asked.
The girl, who was the friendlier of the pair, looked up at me. “Where did you get this thing?” she asked, confused, a slight tone of displeasure at having to talk to me. I told her about the vending machine and she looked down at the map, frowning. “I’ve never seen this before in my life. Weird.”
The boy, meanwhile, was deeply invested in a game on his phone. When the girl asked him if he knew anything about the map, he shrugged. “I don’t live in Southold, sorry.” I thanked the teens and began to walk back toward the staircase—I left my sister alone on the beach—and I could have sworn I heard snickering. Did those kids know more than they were letting on, or did they just see me as an old weirdo who was on a lame treasure hunt? Was the boy really playing on his phone, or was he transmitting a clandestine message that I was getting too close to some dark secret?
After searching in futility for a little while longer, we decided to call it—we were either in the wrong place or just missing something. My sister wanted to throw in the towel and go to brunch, but I wasn’t done yet. There was treasure to be found, I insisted. And we were going to find it. So we collected my mother, who was enjoying Cristina Alger’s Girls Like Us on her Kindle while sitting on a bench outside the lighthouse, and drove back to the Port of Egypt.
“Let’s try a new map,” I declared.
My sister was a bit wary. “Are you sure you want to keep doing this? We just spent 45 minutes on a rocky beach looking for a random box.”
I was unwavering. “We are finding that treasure. We must have missed something.”
I marched back to the vending machine and purchased a new map. This one pointed to Orient. That was…a bit of a drive. But no matter. Imagine the glory that awaited us!
After the scenic, 25-minute drive east, we parked the car outside a grassy trail and again followed the directions, even more carefully this time. And, once again, we ended up on a rocky shore, now facing Plum Island and the Coffee Pot lighthouse. This map, I thought to myself, was a lot more specific. We were sure to find the treasure.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. We managed to get ourselves turned around, and the mood changed. As we scoured the rocky beach, my mind began to twist and turn. What if the treasure wasn’t here? What if we were in the wrong place yet again? Who was that lone fisherman hanging out by the water? What if this was all some kind of strange conspiracy orchestrated by the government on Plum Island to test our resolve and sanity? Okay, I admit that last bit was a stretch, but I had just watched ABC’s new North Fork-set mystery thriller, Emergence, and was feeling a little heightened.
My sister evidently noticed my wild imaginings and anxiety setting in, and decided this treasure hunt was not going to end in success. She suggested we head back to the car, where we had left my mother, and get something to eat. Resigned, I agreed. But where was the entrance back to the trail? We couldn’t seem to find it. And where did that fisherman go?
As I spiraled, I heard my sister. “Come on,” she called. “We’ll go this way, instead.”
Suddenly, my sister began to climb up some of the rocks…and vanished behind an ocean of tall grass. She reappeared briefly, but the grass engulfed her as she disappeared from view. I was lost in the brush, with nothing left but a treasure map and the hot sun beating down from above, threatening to overtake my mind as it rushed to madness…
“You coming?” I heard her say.
I blinked. “You’re…you’re standing in the tall grass!” I shrieked, thinking of the ticks and bugs. Except she wasn’t. She was on a clear, neatly kept path—the grass was in front of her. Composing myself, I stepped back onto the trail and we found our way back to the car.
The whole experience, at that moment, felt like a found-footage horror film. At the beginning of The Blair Witch Project, the tone was light and fun, but by the end, the hikers had all descended into psychosis, stuck in an endless, existential loop.
As thoughts like this raced through my head—What if we were trapped on the edge of Orient for all eternity?—a young couple strolled by with their toddler in tow and smiled at us. I looked over at my sister. She was checking her texts. A few feet ahead, a large crowd was getting ready to board the ferry.
My mother and sister had a laugh at my expense when we got back to the car, sans treasure, and we headed back west, ending, like so many journeys do, at Main Road Biscuit Co. for fried chicken and rosé.
I won’t say the real treasure was the journey. But it was certainly a memorable experience. Maybe someday I’ll return to find the secret of Greenie Supply & Tackle, but for now, I’m content with the treasure of the North Fork being my white whale.
For more about Greenie Supply & Tackle, visit greeniesupply.com.
NOTE: After reading Lee’s tale of woe, which they quite enjoyed, Greenie Supply & Tackle added a “Hints” page to their website: greeniesupply.com/hints.