Fans of Randall Munroe's XKCD strip had a bit of a shock this afternoon, when the long-running, auto-updating comic "Time" apparently came to its conclusion.

The comic, which started on March 25, initially showed a girl and a boy (Megan and Cueball) sitting on a beach, with the alt text—that is, the yellow-boxed text that appears when you mouse over the comic—of "Wait for it." Soon it became apparent that the comic was updating automatically—initially every half-hour, then after 120 hours, every hour.

At first, the animation showed the two figures building an elaborate sand castle. Then it turned into much more.

According to the Explain XKCD wiki:

The unfolding story that it tells is set in the far future, at a time when the Straits of Gibraltar have long been blocked, and the Mediterranean has largely dried up, leaving only a much smaller, hypersaline sea behind. Megan and Cueball, living on the shores of this sea, notice one day while building a huge sand castle that its level is starting to rise, and set off on a journey of exploration to try and find out why. Eventually they discover that the Straits of Gibraltar have once again been breached, and the Mediterranean Basin is being flooded. They run back to their home, assemble their village, and board a makeshift raft. Megan has now established that the sea has risen too far, and that they will have to remain on the raft for the duration of the flood.

The tale ramped up in recent days, particularly as Megan and Cueball ran home to warn others about the flood. (The alt text helpfully changed to "RUN.") Once they reached the village and got everyone on the raft, the alt text changed again to "...." That led some on the forum thread, which has grown to over 50,000 posts, to anticipate another change.

That change came today, which also marked the occasion of that 50,000th post. The raft struck shore, and the villagers disembarked and strode off into the woods. Whereupon the words "The End" appeared both in the image and the alt text. The words later disappeared from the image.

Some speculated this was all a case of nerd-sniping. Maybe that's the case. But Munroe clearly paid enormous attention to detail—as did his community, which was able to deduce by the night sky in the comic that the story was taking place in April of the year 13291. So it seems fairer to consider "Time" a story well told, well, in time.

One day, perhaps, the story of Time will be taken up again. In the meantime, see the entire animated story for yourself.

Munroe image courtesy of Wikimedia. Comic images courtesy of XKCD