|In the Review Requests section, I stumbled upon this work and, intrigued by the title, thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did.
As I read the first two chapters of Fox on the Run, I had a strange sense of familiarity... While our works aren't similar when it comes to the plotline, I dare to claim that our approaches have a few similarities. Hence, I might bring up some thoughts that have been haunting me as well. I'll leave the decision whether that what I say is worth noting down or should be ignored to you since, like any other, this review is subjective and written without knowledge of the plans for your work.
The first chapter had a nice flow and good pacing that kept the reader immersed. You have a way with words and have managed to implement interesting tidbits about Penelope there. She seems to be a dry-humored (and, oh, I happen to be so fond of such people) woman with a unique set of morals and creative improvisational skills; a hint about her family relationships added casually is also a great addition.
I can't say I see Penelope as an observant person, as she jumps into conclusions or action quickly:
• Rather than trying the signal inside the car to scare the fox, she chooses to get out of the car and take the 'madwoman' approach;
• Despite observing the fox from up close, and there being no signs of it having rabies (the foam wouldn't appear out of nowhere, and there wasn't any suspicious behaviour), she seemed quite fixated on it being sick (thinks or comments on it four times).
If that is your intention, I can only clap you on the back and suggest that further in the story this particular character trait could and should become a setback or a hindrance at least once since it comes as one of the more prominent features.
For a moment there, I'd like to return to the plot. You managed to start your work with an intriguing, unique situation and end the chapter with a good promise of intrigue and mystery. Still, there is some room to grow (and given that the chapter is just above 2000 words, you won't make it too long if you choose to do so).
The events you present feel a bit random and inconsequential, mainly the fox. If you ignore the title, it feels like a filler, especially when it's quickly forgotten by Penelope, and the focus, in the end, shifts to a human threat. It doesn't reveal a lot about Penelope's situation, only the characteristic I mentioned before, but it too, doesn't have an impact on the rest of the chapter. If it seeped into the nightmare as a catalyst or – and this is entirely theoretical – the fox was found dead on the porch in the morning, it would tie the chapter together more.
When it comes to the first chapter, the readers wish to learn a bit about the setting, the main character, the promise of future developments. You deliver the last one well, but the other bits could be enhanced. The seemingly random or mundane events that take place when Penelope isn't dreaming don't seem like they serve a lot of purpose besides showing time passage. With all the information you gave, I could imagine a normal house without neigbours, at the edge of the forest, and a working woman whose circumstances I don't know, but can see that she has nightmares. But that's where you see the curve: the house is normal (The doors were locked, lights doused, and Cinnamon was safely curled up in her cat hut) and Penelope's schedule is normal (Penelope ran a comb through her hair, brushed her teeth, and started gathering up her belongings). But perhaps to her, they bring some associations or feelings that would make the reader learn something more?
I have a couple of tiny notes that I thought I'd attach as well:
• If she saw a bear - though she’d only ever spotted one for as long as she’d inhabited her little mountain sanctuary - she would have to run for her life, as she still hadn’t quite planned out what to do. – Rather than planning out, if Penelope had seen the bear, she probably hadn't yet brought herself to look up how to act in the situation rather than made up an escape strategy. This is an entirely subjective commentary, of course, but I personally, think that might be a more appropriate approach even with her unorthodox ways of solving problems.
• Your writing style is engaging and easy to follow. Only the occasional filler words weasel into the sentences to make them sound weaker or lazier than they could be. Here's a paragraph to illustrate my words:
By the time the covers were turned down and Penelope was mindlessly skimming through one social media app after another, the intrusive fox was half forgotten. The doors were locked, lights doused, and Cinnamon was safely curled up in her cat hut, undoubtedly chasing phantom mice through the ether. Rain started pelting down shortly after ten, and Penelope finally decided to plug in her phone and close her eyes. ─ Skimming already is a half-hearted action, and the other words don't make the visuals any stronger. Be careful with adverbs in general. They often can be switched with much stronger expressions or be left out entirely. That, and you can make a bad habit of overusing such words ("finally" repeated 11 times in the two chapters alone).
Or let me jump to the second chapter with this point: A pair of deep brown eyes belonging to the inhabitant of the neighboring cubicle peered past the upholstered divider. – can also become excessive information.
I have to admit the second chapter up until the scene in the bathroom slowed enough to start dragging. While the length of it was good, and your writing remains engaging, the harsh yet mundane day at work that felt like a filler and the summary of the previous chapter through the dialogue once again deterred from the plot before it was properly introduced – two chapters in, I still had no clue what to expect from the book as a whole. The extra focus on everyday life without revealing more than the frustration of the protagonist made the story itself harder to engage in. So far, it seems like a story about paranoia, and I can hardly believe that you have only that in store for us. Thus I highly suggest separating scenes that are important from fillers and focusing on keeping a good pace.
By the way, you did a fantastic job with the presentation talk in the office! The circumstances and the approach were clear, engaging, and life-like. Although the clients were incredibly rude, which would often be regarded as a slightly exaggerated, the presentation itself sounded professional and realistic. Though as someone who has been working with graphic design, I'd say that in a big company – and the impression is that this one is big – a month to work on a single logo project is pretty lax. Getting two more weeks to work with the color schemes is more than reasonable.
And the chapter had well-placed spikes of thrill. The washroom scene was probably my favourite this time. You managed to portray the tension and the response to it with great skill. The two-steps-at-a-time run up the stairs is oh-so-familiar (although, thankfully, I haven't been chased by invisible spooks akin to Penelope's before).
Lastly, I'd like to offer two tiny nitpicks:
• “Yeah. I mean if there was a missing person, if a body had been found,” she looked down towards the pale amber liquid swirling in her glass, “it would be all over the news by now.” – Penelope had found the blood in the morning, so the news report about the dead person would be shown only that evening. And more or less, at the time they were at the bar. Hence, they couldn't know if such a thing wasn't on the news.
• And secondly, once again, the mention of the fox feels random. While it is significant to the story – it's impossible to deny that – even with the picture prompt on the glass, the mention felt purposeless. In the end, dismissed as a light (and humorous) talk about porcupines, it ended up looking as a filler as well. Even if you bring it up now and then, to keep the reader remembering the scene this story started with, it will remain just that – a reminder that doesn't push the concept forward. After all, besides the curiosity of the fox (and the unlike the ones in the cities, rural foxes are brave like that) was there anything peculiar for Penelope to keep remembering it under natural circumstances; especially when the bloody incident did take priority in her mind?
To sum it up, the first couple of chapters look like a great intro to a new novel. While they should be tightened, getting rid of excessive information and could use a more thorough introduction of Penelope, the start is strong and hopefully will bring the readers on a great journey with an impactful finish. Keep it up, don't stop questioning your characters, and don't let your muses sleep. I'll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts and perhaps having a further discussion if you find these comments worth the time!